Healthy Hot Chocolate Recipe

Hot chocolate is a crowd favorite this time of year, and whether you’re bundled up at home or out looking at Christmas lights, the smooth, sweet flavor quickly warms your heart and hands.

A tall hot chocolate from Starbucks traditionally made (with 2% milk) packs 320 calories (39g carb/13g fat/11g protein), and made with almond milk it has 250 calories (33g carb/12g fat/4g protein). And both have about 30 grams of sugar - yikes!

Don’t miss out on this seasonal staple, make it at home to save calories and money. This recipe requires only four main ingredients and takes less than five minutes to prepare. Nutrition before topping options: 64 calories per serving (5g carb/3.5g fat/7.5g protein).

Ingredients:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp collagen protein*

8 drops vanilla creme stevia or 2 regular stevia packets

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and whisk together until cocoa powder is mixed well. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently for a few minutes until hot. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

Topping ideas:

  • Ground cinnamon is a great option -- 1 tbsp has only 3 calories (1g carb/0g fat/0g protein) and adds just a hint of Christmas spirit.

  • Top with 2 tbsp whipped cream for only 15 cals (1g carb/1g fat/0g protein).

  • To make peppermint hot cocoa, add 3 drops pure peppermint extract and break half a candy cane into pieces and sprinkle on top of finished drink, adds 25 cals (6.5g carb/0g fat/0g protein).

  • Chocolate lovers rejoice! Cocoa nibs have delicious flavor and great texture, and 1 tbsp is only 60 cals (3g carb/5g fat/1g protein) -- sprinkle on top or mix and melt in.

  • A classic: mini marshmallows, just 15 grams gets the job done for 45 cals (11.5g carb/0g fat/0g protein).

Notes:

You can also use cashew milk (a little creamier than almond) or coconut milk based on preference.

*Collagen protein is beef based (non-dairy). It is flavorless and dissolves in water, so be cautious if substituting for a different protein powder.

Sources:

Various nutrition facts may vary based on brand. Starbucks information from their website

Five things to keep in mind this Thanksgiving

I know what it's like to want to indulge in the annual holiday and all the associated calories, but not throw away all the progress you've worked for; which can feel like a pull in different directions. I've had several clients tell me they're worried about Thanksgiving, or don't want to do weigh-ins or pictures this week because they're nervous about all the damage they will have done on Thursday. 

I wanted to share some guidance and suggestions so that you hopefully feel a little more comfortable, calm and confident going into this week. 

Tip 1: Thanksgiving is one meal

I usually get annoyed when people say "Christmas is just one day!" because really, it's four weeks of parties, social events and work potlucks with temptations on every end cap at Target that you have to endure (click here for Christmas advice). However, Thanksgiving really is just one meal on one day, so unless you're planning on having pumpkin pie for breakfast too (in which case, we probably should talk privately, haha), then you really can't do that much damage with that one dinner. This week should be exactly the same as last week, with the exception of Thursday afternoon/evening.

Tip 2: Enjoying yourself every once in a while is why we work so hard in the first place

You don't need me to tell you that the time you take each day to measure and track your food, and the healthy choices you make when sometimes it would be way easier to just give in, is intentional effort by you to get closer to your goals (you rock!). Because you do that so well most of the time, it's important to indulge in a little life balance so you don't get burnt out, you don't feel left out or resent what you're doing, and to reduce the chance of binging later. What fun would it be to eat perfect 100% of the time and never enjoy yourself and a less-than-macro-friendly meal? Which leads me to my next point...

Tip 3: Don't make your Thanksgiving dinner fit your macros

In fact, I suggest just not tracking that meal at all. Everyone views tracking a little differently, so if you prefer to guess the quantities and put something similar into My Fitness Pal, I won't stop you. But please don't starve yourself all day to try and make it fit, or get your food scale and measuring cups out on the table. PS: Do track your meal prior to Thanksgiving, per usual. :) PPS: If you have no idea what I'm talking about with macros, click here to learn about them.

Tip 4: You should eat well (normal) earlier in the day, especially protein

Your breakfast, lunch and/or snacks should resemble the normal quality of your food (which is awesome, clean, nutrient-dense food...right?), and maybe slightly smaller portions. You don't want to go into your Thanksgiving meal starving, because you'll be more likely to overeat. There's not usually many vegetables present on the table (that aren't in a casserole - doesn't count folks), so get your fiber in early in the day. Generally, while turkey has protein, you're going to get more full off the higher-carb options at your feast, so getting some extra protein in earlier in the day as well will help make sure you're not shorting yourself too much and keep you feeling a little more satisfied throughout the day. When you feel more satisfied, not only do you make smarter food choices but you have less cravings and/or crashes as well. Some good quick options: hard boiled eggs, sliced turkey or ham, chicken breast, mini bell peppers, non-fat Greek yogurt or a protein shake.

Tip 5: Everything goes back to normal on Friday

Wake up and enjoy your typical breakfast and get back on track to hitting your goals. Recall the 80/20 principle we've talked about before: if you're tracking and crushing your goals at least 80% of the time, you're still going to see positive results with that 20% margin of error, better known as life happens, "I forgot my lunch at home" or in this case, holiday celebrations. I'll give you an example: if you eat 4 times per day, that's 28 eating opportunities during the week. If you count Thanksgiving dinner as an off-plan meal and crush the other meals during the week, that still puts you at 96% adherent for the week. Boom! However, if you let Friday slip, and roll into the weekend eating untracked leftovers for snacks, your adherence rate will drop quickly. ;)

Bonus Reminders

Drink lots of water. Before you eat, during and after. Don't make bad food decisions out of dehydration. Chew slowly, and take breaks (setting your silverware down) frequently to chat with loved ones so you're able to identify when you're full. Wait at least 15 minutes before deciding to go back for a second helping. Lastly, if you can, catch a workout Thanksgiving morning. Whether it's a jog or bike ride around the neighborhood, a quick gym session, or some air squats in the backyard; getting your heart rate up early is always an awesome way to start the day.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and don't stress about your food too much. Focus on the intent to spend time with your friends and family, rather than overthinking the food. If you found this advice helpful, please share with a friend. :) Cheers!

How to Track a Recipe in My Fitness Pal

Creating a recipe in My Fitness Pal (MFP) makes tracking your food so much easier if you’re someone that likes to get creative in the kitchen, cooks in bulk for the week or makes large portions, such as for a family. It also improves the accuracy of your tracking and makes it quicker to log next time you eat the dish and/or make the recipe. Follow the steps below to learn how, and reference the set of pictures at the end of the instructions if needed. Happy cooking! 

Step 1. Open the MFP app on your phone and select More on the bottom right of the screen

Step 2. Select Meals, Recipes and Foods

Step 3. Select Create a Recipe at the bottom of the screen

Step 4. Select Enter Ingredients Manually

Step 5. Under Recipe Information, give your recipe a title. Then change the Serving Size to 1, and press the arrow in the top right corner to move on to the next step.

Step 6. Select Add Ingredient. This will enable you to search the MFP database for millions of foods so you can add ingredients individually. Try to check your ingredients for accuracy because there can be some incorrect listings in the database -- the more specific you can be with your search (brand name, store you purchased it at, etc.), the better. You can also scan the barcode of items you have on hand by pressing scan on the bottom right. Begin adding ingredients, adjusting their quantities to reflect how much you’re using for the total recipe.

Step 7. Once you’ve added all your ingredients, make sure the serving size is set to 1 before completing -- you’ll see it next to the Calories Per Serving at the bottom of the page. Click the arrow in the top right of the screen, and you will be taken to the Save Recipe page. Note that the nutrition facts shown are for the entire recipe, because your serving size is currently set to 1.

Step 8. You need to weigh the finished product in grams, which may have to be done in several bowls if the quantity is too large (then just add the measurements together). When you set an empty container on the food scale, press “tear” or “zero” to zero out the scale, then start adding food to get the weight -- otherwise it will include the weight of the bowl/container in your measurement.

Step 9. Once you have the total grams of the recipe, you’ll return to the Save Recipe page you left on and update the servings from 1 to the grams total you just measured. Then press Save Recipe. You’ll notice that the nutrition facts updated (and are much lower) because they now reflect a single gram of the recipe.

Step 10. Now you’re ready to enjoy and log your recipe! When you go to track the food, you’ll see Recipes on the food diary page. Recall that 1 serving = 1 gram, so when you weigh the portion you’d like to eat, just change the amount to the grams you weighed for that meal. As you can see in the example, the tracker is eating 100g of the recipe.

All things pumpkin: part two

Last post, I told you what to ditch/replace to improve your seasonal treats, but the vegetable doesn't deserve a totally bad rap.

Here's what you can love about pumpkin (when it's not covered in icing):

  • The orange color is derived from beta carotene, which provides vitamin A to the body and is good for eyesight and immunity
  • It also packs some vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Manganese + Potassium (more than a banana!)
  • Pumpkin is a member of the squash family - doesn't everyone love it's sister spaghetti squash?
  • The seeds have an average of 12g fiber per 1 cup - you'll feel fuller, longer using them as a crunchy, satisfying snack

Get in the kitchen: roasted pumpkin seeds

Roasting pumpkin seeds yourself is an easy, hands-on activity for kiddos. Once you've carved the pumpkin and scooped out the seeds, rinse and roast for about 20-30 minutes to dry. Then, toss in 2 teaspoons of butter and a pinch of salt, bake in a single layer (on foil, for easy clean up) at 300 degrees for 45 mins or until golden brown. That's the traditional method, but there's lots of ways to change up your pumpkin seed flavor:

  • For a spiced seed, add in 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce.
  • For a deeper profile, mix in 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (skip the salt)
  • Feeling Italian? Mix with dried Oregano and parmesan 
  • For something a little different, skip the salt and use butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ranch seasoning mix - yum!
  • For my southwestern friends, mix butter, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon taco seasoning and a tablespoon of fresh cilantro
  • For a barbecue feel, toss in 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle chile powder and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Everything is better with bacon - cook 3-4 slices separately and crumble over the roasted seeds
  • Make a tasty trail mix: once roasted, combine with dried fruit (cranberries, raisins), almonds and cashews

Bonus: the science behind the craving

Less relevant to nutrition, but equally fascinating, I thought I'd touch on the "why" behind your craving for pumpkin spice, that seemingly only happens a few months out of the year. 

Pumpkin spice isn't really pumpkin (especially in syrup form), it's actually a combination of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, ground allspice and ground cloves. Because these spices are commonly used in home cooking, the scent brings feelings of comfort; perhaps family gatherings, home cooking and warm memories. We learn and create associations with odors over time, and generally speaking, all the associations with pumpkin spice are all very positive. When the spice is created synthetically, it mimics the aroma of butter browning with sugar, giving your senses the illusion of freshly baked pie.

About 80% of flavor comes from smell; largely why when you're sick and congested, nothing tastes or sounds good. That's also why the pumpkin spice smell is strong enough to make us crave and enjoy it.

It's truly marketing genius. The pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks unofficially marks the beginning of fall, and the drink even has its' own verified Twitter account. Since the roll out of the drink by the coffee chain in 2003, there have been more than 200 million cups of PSL sold.

As mentioned above, real pumpkin provides great health benefits, and all spices come from nutrient-packed plants. Enjoy more of the real thing this season, and less of the artificial versions.

Cheers!

A healthier take on the pumpkin spice craze

Do I think it's silly that every girl (+ the guys who won't admit it) obsess over all things pumpkin this time of year? Yes. Will I still partake in the seasonal nonsense? Also yes. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - you can have your PSL and drink it, too. ️

Here are some things to keep in mind this fall to keep indulgences in check:

  • Order a low-fat latte (non-fat or almond/coconut milk), add 1 pump pumpkin spice, ask for pumpkin spice sprinkles on top and skip the whip. That cuts the originally 340 calorie drink in HALF (literally). PS: the actual pumpkin spice sauce has dairy, so the alternative milk doesn't make it completely dairy-free, if that's something you're cautious of.
  • For an even lighter coffee, order an Americano (espresso + water) with some steamed cream or coconut milk (the steaming makes the milk taste sweeter), and add 1 pump pumpkin spice. Boom! 
  • Snag some pumpkin spice K-Cups for your Keurig.
  • The store bought pastries are hefty: running 380-500 calories (+ lots of sugar) per muffin or scone. Make baked goods yourself with healthy tricks like utilizing apple sauce, Greek yogurt, egg whites and/or protein powder. Test one, and give the rest away. I found a handful of ideas (complete with nutrition facts) on Cookie and Kate and on Amy's Healthy Baking.
  • Treat pumpkin pie like Thanksgiving food, not "because Costco has them already" food. You're in control of your choices, not the supermarket.
  • Pick up some pumpkin spice tea on Amazon for all the warm-your-heart-deliciousness and none of the calories (seriously zero, it's just tea).
  • To make a macro-friendly pumpkin spice hot chocolate, steam 8oz of chocolate almond milk (or heat in the microwave), add 1/2oz pumpkin pie sauce and top with cinnamon, nutmeg and if you're feeling super festive, finish with a dollop of whip (15 cals per 2 tbsp). This version: 132 calories. An 8oz pumpkin spice hot chocolate at Starbucks: 438 calories. Whoa!

Lastly, below is a shake recipe I love to make this time of year. By utilizing real pumpkin and no added sugar, it satisfies the craving without the added empty calories. And, sneaking protein in throughout the day is always a plus! This blended treat has good sources of protein and carbs, and is low in fat -- perfect for a post-workout meal.

Recipe: Pumpkin Protein Shake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon honey or agave
  • 1 scoop protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 banana
  • Ice cubes (about 6)

Directions

Throw it all in a blender and mix until ingredients look smooth. Top with nutmeg and cinnamon. 

Macros

32g carb, 6g fat, 27g protein (290 calories) for one shake.

Modifications/Suggestions

  • For extra protein, add 1/3 cup Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of collagen protein, or 2 tablespoons of powdered peanut butter.
  • For extra fat, add a tablespoon of almond butter or MCT oil.
  • For extra sweetness, add 1 tablespoon cocoa nibs, a pinch of stevia or a few drop of liquid stevia.

Enjoy, 'tis the season!

Resources:

Starbucks Nutrition Facts

 

Eat, Breathe, Work Hard, Repeat

I’m going to tell you something, and you may be shocked. Drum roll please… I eat ice cream sometimes. Gelato specifically, it’s my fav. And cheesecake, like on my birthday last month. And even chocolate, because every 20-something girl loves chocolate, it’s science. I know, I know -- you’re totally shocked. A nutritionist eats things full of fat, sugar, processed ingredients and insane amount of calories sometimes? Sometimes, yes.

Every time I’m at a social gathering and indulge in something less-than-nutritionist-worthy, heads literally explode and I hear comments ranging from “oh my God you eat things like that?” to “how do you look like that and eat like that?” -- there’s flaws all in, out, and around the logic of those statements and I’m going to break them down for you really quick. Partially for my sanity, but mostly to help you take better control over your approach to nutrition as well.

Eat

First, I eat things like that sometimes. I’m a BIG advocate of balance, and my clients know this well. If you hate what you’re doing, you’ll grow resentful and create an unhealthy relationship with your approach and possibly foods. Anything that doesn’t bend will eventually break, and your “diet” should allow for flexibility.

Balance is open for interpretation, but with something like sugar, it’s fair to assume it should be consumed far less than the higher-priority, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables (especially the green ones), lean proteins, whole grains and fruit.

Next, I’m not actively trying to lose weight right now. I’m eating for maintenance, which supplies my body enough calories to train hard, be less strict with my calorie intake and/or macronutrient distribution, have plenty of energy, and hold consistently at the same body weight. If your primary goal right now is to lose weight, it’s also fair to assume your balance should be more strict than the person who is trying to maintain. Note: you can still eat delicious things and lose weight, but as a general rule of thumb, less frequently.

Furthermore, maintaining is pretty easy (especially once you’ve been doing it a while). Basically: keeping abs is generally easier than getting them. So don’t fret if you are trying to drop pounds, you’ll have even more flexibility once you’re trying to maintain, too.

The 80/20 approach means eating nutrient-dense food 80% of the time, and enjoying other things 20% of the time. Of course, these percentages will vary based on if you have specific goals you’re working toward, but for maintaining weight and overall wellness, this structure works well for most people. So if you’re absolutely just craving that doughnut, consider it part of the 20% for that week. Keep in mind: in order to stay within that 80%, you want to get right back on track after an indulgence -- be mindful of that, and don’t let one meal turn into a weekend.

Breathe

It’s so important for your mind, body and overall health to not beat yourself up when you do indulge. Way easier said than done, I totally get it. But the practices below really help me keep that “guilt” in control.

I make the meal count. I don’t eat indulgences in my car, alone at home (unless that’s your happy place, no judgement), or at the office. Don’t let your circumstances dictate your decisions; you can always find an excuse: it’s so-and-so’s birthday, but there’s a work happy hour, someone else is in town and your aunt is having a baby shower -- if you indulge every single time something comes up, you’re probably further from the balance concept we just addressed. You are in control of your nutrition choices, the food sitting on the break room counter is not.

Try to eat well most of the time so you can really enjoy the pieces that don’t fit in the “most”. Do you ever eat something and think “man that wasn’t worth it?” — “it” being the calories. I strive to avoid that feeling. If I’m going to splurge on something sweet, it’s going to be planned and in-line with what I’m really craving. This notion can be applied to events, too: if you know you’re going to a dinner party, eat well most of that week to allow yourself to embrace whatever delicious items are available in that scenario. Be in control when you can, so that when you aren’t it doesn’t set you back (thus, ladies and gents, an example of the 80/20 approach).

Another thing that really helps with the breathe component is meditation. I used to think meditation was rah-rah yogi stuff and totally not for me. Since I’ve let that assumption go, I’m in the process of writing a piece on how much guided meditation has positively impacted my, and many of my friends’ lives, but in the meantime, know that I use an app called Headspace. Download it on any smart phone -- your first 10 sessions are free. It REALLY helps with the whole “letting things” go thing. Seriously, look it up, right after you finish this post.

Work Hard

Lastly, work hard! My clients know we don’t call them cheat days, we call them reward meals (not “cheating” because you’ve earned the indulgence, this is a lifestyle not a diet, and it’s not full days). Reward meals are earned for, you guessed it: following the plan 80% of the time, not making excuses, and working hard.

Truth be told, in addition to the ongoing comments aforementioned during the introduction, the inspiration for this blog post came from a conversation with my CrossFit coach. On the first Friday of each month, our gym does Fran (a famously terrible workout in the functional fitness community). After everyone sweats their heart out, our coach brings in something fun like snow cones or a waffle truck. It is his intention (and him and I are quite aligned on nutrition-based things) that members eat well most of the time, work really hard during the workout, enjoy the indulgence with their fellow CrossFit friends, and then don’t stress about it and get right back on track the next day. Hmm… it’s almost like, that is what I just outlined as my approach, too! :)

I hope you find these concepts helpful and apply them to improve your mental health, quality of life and relationship of food. Cheers!

How to Beat Nighttime Sugar Cravings

Craving some sweet, chocolaty and delicious before bed is totally normal -- but it's no basis for derailing your progress. The best thing you can do is to know the craving is coming and be prepared with a strategy to win the day. Plan for your roadblocks to happen so you're ready to get through them, until they don't happen anymore.

Below are a bunch of strategies you can utilize to kick those cravings, overcome them completely, or simply make a more mindful choice. If you find any of them helpful for you, please feel free to comment and/or share with a friend!

Try these out:

  • Plug in something small and sweet into your food log for the evening before logging the rest of your day so you can account for it and it's planned in later; like a piece of dark chocolate. Then, you can look forward to it all day and it doesn't throw you off when you have it. 
  • Have some fruit, its naturally sweet and will curve the craving a little bit. Fruit breaks down into sugar the same way sweets do, and they have way more micronutrients (vitamins + minerals)! Try: strawberries with a little whip cream on top, peaches warmed up and topped with granola, apple slices topped with cinnamon or a little peanut butter, frozen grapes, or some raspberries topped with Stevia.
  • Drink more water at night; that helps with cravings -- and you could do something fun like add orange, cucumber or lemon slices to your water.
  • Have some hot, decaffeinated tea. There's plenty of naturally sweet teas (no added sugar) you can find at a local Fry's or Sprout's store, or via Amazon that come in decedent flavors like caramel and actually promote restful sleep.
  • Brush your teeth right after dinner so you're less likely to snack on something.
  • Set an alarm to go off on your phone about the time this usually happens at night; change the name from "alarm" to "you've got this!" or a brief message about your why behind your goal you're working toward. This literal reminder will come at the perfect time to re-instill that motivation.
  • Ask yourself: are you tired, stressed, bored, or upset? Those feelings may increase your cravings, and I encourage you to recognize that you are in control of your actions, not your emotions at the time. 
  • Journal about what you're craving -- seriously! Write down why it might be, how committed you are to your goal, and then how proud of yourself you are that you stuck to the plan. Then, in your next moment of weakness, you'll have this to reference. 
  • Distract yourself: go do some meditation (Headspace, for example), go for a walk outside, or write in your gratitude journal.
  • Just go to bed -- seriously! I know that one seems silly, but really, you probably just need to catch some zzz's. I promise you'll wake up being glad you stayed strong. If you need some ideas for before bed rituals to get your mind off the candy drawer and on the pillow, check out this blog post.

Good luck, and cheers to empowered, healthy evenings! :)

Be easy, my friend

While sitting in my car waiting for the light to turn green, the car behind me honks the moment it does. Perhaps he was in a hurry, or he thought I was texting and not paying attention. He probably doesn’t know that I just had an injection of medicine 40 miles from home, like I do every week, which causes me to be excruciatingly uncomfortable, therefore moving and reacting a little slow.

Then, after ordering my coffee at Starbucks, the cashier seems frustrated with me as I fumble through my wallet, because the pain I’m in can be so distracting that it’s hard to focus.

And at the gym, I move slowly through a workout and appear less driven or competitive, though I’m really mentally wrestling with the fact that my fitness isn’t up to par with where it was when I was healthier.

I don’t say these things to gain sympathy. I don’t want that, for many reasons; one of which is that everyone has something going on. Some issues are more critical than others, though conflict magnitude is relative to the person. Personal struggle is a universal emotion: death of a loved one, medical issues, break-ups, financial insecurity, the list goes on. At some point everyone is plagued by being seriously upset about something, rightfully so.

Take a moment to think about how you would treat someone who just shared with you that they’re having a hard time. Then, picture how a loved one spoke to and consoled you during a rough period. A gentle tone, soft embrace, compassion and selflessness are probably a few characteristics that you just envisioned.

So if we all have been through a challenging time, thus empathizing with how incredibly difficult it is, why wouldn’t we treat everyone like we understand them? Naturally, each person you encounter is not always emotionally drained due to their current situation (thank goodness!), but think back to the traits you appreciate in both a confidant and random strangers when you’re struggling. What if you treated each person you meet with those same qualities, regardless of what’s going on in their life? What is the worst that could happen if you treated every individual like you sincerely cared about them?

Next time I’m at a light, and the person in front of me doesn’t go right when the light turns green, I won’t be so quick to honk my horn. Maybe he’s on Facebook and should be looking at the road, but maybe his little boy is sick, or he just lost his job. My honking gesture won’t make him a better driver if it’s the former, and will make him feel worse if it’s the latter.

Take a few minutes today to consider how you could treat people more the way you would like to be treated, whether it be your best day or your darkest hours, because we all experience both.

CrossFit Games athlete and entrepreneur Jason Khalipa recently said during a podcast interview that after seeing his daughter receive Leukemia treatments in the ICU, surrounded by other toddlers fighting for their lives, nothing really ever seems that bad. The California traffic, crowds, and daily inconveniences, really seem so insignificant comparatively. He suggested we all calm down, “life is good, be easy.”

Set up for success: Eating while traveling

Hitting your macros, eating well, resisting temptation: those things are all hard enough when you’re in your usual environment such as work or in the comfort of your home. Once you throw traveling into the mix, people tend to completely fall of track. Finding healthy options and maintaining some sense of positive nutrition habits while flying, on the road or in unfamiliar towns can be challenging -- but it’s absolutely doable.

Many of my clients travel often for work and have utilized many of these strategies already to consistently work toward their goals, regardless of where they are. I’ll reference tracking macros in the information below, although even if you’re not diligently following your protein, carb and fat intake, these tips will help you stay on track and feel your best while on vacation.

Restaurant research

Prior to arriving to a new city, or first thing when you get there, scout out a couple top-rated restaurants in the area; you might as well try the best food while you’re there! Once you’ve identified ones within your proximity and price point, pull up their menu online and look through some options of things that fall within your macros from an estimated perspective. 

Example: if I know I’m trying to keep my carbs within reason, a dish with a pasta base, served with bread, topped with something crusted and breaded, probably isn’t the best choice.

Doing this research ahead of time ensures two things: you have some places to go ready to reference when you’re hungry which helps you avoid stopping at some semi-decent hot dog hut, and secondly, you already know what on the menu sounds appealing before you get there and are tempted by smells, other customer’s plates, and so forth.

If the restaurant's nutrition facts are available online, great! Definitely reference those to get an idea of the composition of their dishes. Consider that if their veggie-based plates are super high in fat, they may be cooking in a lot of oil or butter. You can use this information to eat less fat throughout the day to maintain some balance, and/or to track the actual macros.

Estimated nutrients

The reality is that when you’re eating out, protein is expensive and served in small portions. Always look for ways to add lean protein to your meals, and ask your server what’s available for cooking methods: grilled is more ideal than fried, for example. Fat is usually used in excess (because it tastes so good!), everything has more salt than you can taste to preserve ingredients longer, and most things are carb-dense. This doesn’t mean you should just eat less, but rather be more mindful of the nutrients you’re looking for. If you haven’t had many vegetables that day, add some in at dinner on the side. If you had a huge omelette at breakfast, maybe skip the cheese or bacon to keep your fat in check. These small tips go a long way and require no measuring or counting. And always, always, always: drink more water. Being out of your element, it’s easy to forget to get those fluid ounces in.

Reasonable expectations

It’s a good idea to have a conversation with your traveling partner or family in regards to your restaurant suggestions, and share ideas for healthy snacks and ways to stay active during your trip. It’s also important to remember that consistent progress is key: whether or not you got significantly closer to your goal while on vacation isn’t important, but as long as you made some conscious healthy decisions and made an effort to stay enough on track to continue working toward progress, you’re golden. Don’t be too hard on yourself; having unrealistic expectations of eating perfectly and working out every day while traveling will only make falling short of those more upsetting. Let go of the perfection mindset, and prioritize consistent progress.

The adherence “rule”

Let’s start with this: we’re always shooting to hit your goal nutrient intake about 90% of the time to move consistently in the right direction on the progress scale. If you’re eating four times a day (for example), in a given week you’d not want to stray too far off track for more than two meals. 90% of 4 meals per day x 7 days per week = 25 meals to crush perfectly. Over the course of months and a year, you really do have some wiggle room to allow yourself to go a little off track while still achieving progress.

With that said, there’s always going to be some flaw in your measuring -- even at home. Sometimes we don’t have our food scale or measuring cups (like, at a work lunch or on vacation) and we have to eyeball the ounces of chicken or cup of rice. When eating out, you don’t always know how much or what oils food is being cooked in, so we do our best to guess. And furthermore, nutrition labels aren’t 100% accurate, but we go off the information anyway. This small, common discrepancy is called what I refer to as your margin of error. If you’re not totally new to tracking food, you probably have a good sense for what portions looks like. If you tracked everything on vacation pretty closely, you’d probably only be off about 10% (or less) of the time, given all the mentioned variables. That would still put you in the 90/10 area of adherence we’re striving for.

This is a lifestyle

Whether you’re eating healthy or counting macros, it’s a lifestyle -- not a short-term gig. Consider the importance of balance and quality of life before you make yourself miserable avoiding treats or “cheat meals” on a trip. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying,This is good fuel for my body, and what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Make your indulgences count and cash in on really good, tasty food that’s worth it if you’re going to stray away from your norm.

Back on track

The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. When you get back in town, your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer your wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours. Consider ordering some food ahead of time to have ready to go when you get home, or have some easy-to-prep ingredients on hand so vacation doesn’t roll into a week of “off” eating once you’re back in town.

Come prepared

Bring snacks that don’t need to be kept cold in your suitcase: protein powder (and shaker bottle!), protein bars, those kind of things. If you have access to a cooler, pack in tons of veggies, fruit and extra water. For some more snack ideas that are easy to bring along, check out my recent blog post here

On my most recent road trip, I ordered pre-portioned meals from FitChoice Foods to eat during the day, with the intention to treat myself to a restaurant meal each night. These stay great in the cooler, and can be quickly heated in a microwave at a gas station, hotel room, or hotel dining area if there’s no microwave in your room.

Due to my own recent traveling and busy weekends, I looked into ordering my meals from a prep service to make sure I stay on track consistently when my time to meal prep falls short. After ordering from FitChoice several times over the last couple months, I reached out to the owner (based in Mesa) and asked if they'd consider a partnership because I'm a big fan of their service. I'm stoked to announce they provided me a discount code to share with you all!

Here's a brief rundown of why I’m a big fan:

  • You order your meals online, choosing from pre-selected options OR create your own meals by picking a protein, veggie and carbohydrate to pair together

  • You can select your size of protein with each order, and the macros are listed on the container

  • There's a TON of options for carbs, proteins and veggies -- and each meal comes with your choice of a sauce (score!)

  • You can have it delivered to your house, or choose to pick it up at a gym located near your house during set times given on the website

    • Make note of the order cut-off times for ordering listed on the website.
      Tip: I put these deadlines in my calendar, so I don't forget to order!

And, bonus: I've been buying one meal for lunch and/or dinner every single day, and I'm spending less on food each week than I was when I was meal prepping all my food.

If you give it a try, please let me know how much you love it, and don't forget to use heypreslie10 at checkout for 10% off your order for the discount, and so they know I sent you their way. :) If you need suggestions or have any questions while navigating the site, please don't hesitate to reach out to me.

Cheers to happy, safe traveling and a summer full of progress toward those goals!

Nutrition Survival Guide: Memorial Day Weekend

What doesn’t bend will eventually break. This concept applies to many situations, and in this case: your diet and lifestyle. If your nutrition regimen is so strict that it allows for zero flexibility, you’re far more likely to binge eat, create an unhealthy relationship with food and feel deprived. You’ll realize (I hope) that none of those three side-effects are desirable results, or ones you’d associate with a sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle.

Being satisfied and actually liking the food you eat while simultaneously working toward your goals, AND having a social life is not a lifestyle only found in a mythical land far away. It can be your reality! It does take time, and you’ll get there through small steps and little efforts at a time. I’ve compiled tried-and-true strategies and suggestions to help you enjoy your Memorial Day celebration while keeping your nutrition goals in mind.

Eat before you eat

Pre-eat. You read that right. You’re thinking “you want me to eat...before I go to eat?” Yes. Your body craves the good, basic stuff: proteins, fats, and carbs. Protein is found in chicken breast and egg whites, just like it is found in hot dogs and hamburgers. Fat is in avocados and dairy products, and in the mayo that makes chicken salad so tasty. And, in simple terms, your body sees the carbs in brown rice and fruit the same way it does hot dog buns. Therefore, eat some wholesome food (such as what you’d meal prep for lunch during the workweek) before you head to the BBQ, so you’re already quite satisfied of the things your body needs and craves, before you’re put in a will-power testing situation. 

This practice has a dual purpose: in addition to being content from a macronutrient perspective, you won’t be as hungry. We all know what happens when you grocery shop on an empty stomach, and a pool party is no different. You end up buying and eating things you didn’t even know you wanted (and in most cases, really don’t want). Set yourself up beforehand so when you arrive, you’ll only want something if it’s absolutely worth it.

Friends don’t let friends eat grocery store dessert

“Worth it”, what does that mean? Great question. You know that favorite dessert you have? Maybe it’s a certain flavor at the Cheesecake Factory, or that award-winning combination at Coldstone Creamery. Picture that item in your mind for a moment. Now, think of what a cookie from the box at the grocery store bakery tastes like, or a brownie from the gas station. Would you say they are comparable? Probably not. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying “this is good fuel for my body, and what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Do you feel confident saying that about a crappy, store-bought cookie? Make your indulgences count. This philosophy has really helped me, and I have a post dedicated specifically to it you can check out here.

Similar to the dessert example, there are plenty of foods that don’t seem indulgent that you may eat at a pool-side BBQ that you wouldn’t ordinarily. An average hot dog bun is 21 grams of carbohydrates, 2g of fat and 3g of protein. And be honest with yourself: do they even taste that good? If you do love it, try having half of the bun with the whole hot dog. This concept introduces moderation, which is further explained in the next tip. 

Moderation is key

I know you hear this a lot, largely because it’s true. Let’s say you eat 4 meals a day: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. That’s 28 times you eat in a given week. Now if you “cheat” or eat something less than ideal for one of those meals, that’s not even 4% of all the food you ate in those 7 days. Any dietician or statistician can assure you that if you’re doing something quite well 96% of the time, the 4% won’t make a huge detrimental impact to your overall success. LeBron James, one of the best basketball players of all time, has a career shooting average of only about 50%. If he misses almost half the shots he makes and is still that good, you’ll be okay going a little off track on one meal in a week.

The nice thing about a wagon, is you can get back on

It’s your wagon; you’re the one driving it! If you fall off, stop your own wagon, dust the dirt off your pants, and get right back on. The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. A “cheat” meal is that: a meal. If you choose to have all of the food, calorie, indulging freedom on Memorial Day, keep it to a meal and remember that the next meal, and next day, should go right back to normal. In this situation, it can be really helpful to have your next meal planned. Your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer you wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours.

Wait, there’s more!

For some additional practical tips and healthier picks, here are some ideas:

  • Ditch your hamburger bun, and wrap it in lettuce
  • Grab a single plate and toss it when you’re done, instead of grabbing a second helping
  • Pickles have ton of salt, so snack some of those instead of potato chips for the salty satisfaction without the extra carbs and oils
  • Use your fist as a guide; have only that much (in size) of any potato, egg, or chicken salad
  • Keep the condiments to a minimum; try having less than you usually do. Two tablespoons of ketchup packs 10g carbs, and you’ve likely spread on more than that in the past out of habit
  • Drinks lots of water: it will not only keep you hydrated in the heat, but feeling fuller as well. You’ve heard this tip before, but actually do it — have some water, and then have some more.
  • Add fruit to your water for some flavor and summer flare. Skip the carbonated beverages, even those without sugar, such as diet soda, dehydrate you and can make you feel bloated
  • Don’t sit by the food table: distance yourself from the temptation by getting out and enjoying the pool water, weather, green grass and outdoor activities
  • Chew gum so you don’t nibble on something just for the sake of nibbling
  • Bring one of your favorite healthy dishes to share, so you’re in control of at least one item available to snack on
  • Don’t think about what you can’t/shouldn’t eat, instead add more good stuff! Pack on the veggies, fruit, and wholesome ingredients to whatever you’re eating -- which in turn, makes less room for the junk, both on your plate and in your belly.
  • Look for better options, regardless of the options you’re given: when possible, pick leaner proteins like chicken, turkey or fish over beef. Choose whole-grains or plant-based carbs (like corn or rice) instead of highly-processed ones like breads and desserts. 

And at the end of the day remember: you’re building a healthy lifestyle, this is a long-term game. Enjoying yourself without guilt isn’t an easy feat, but I encourage you to embrace life balance. Your nutrition goals, friends and family, and happiness will thank you for it.

Prepping for success: Snacking secrets

Many people only think about breakfast, lunch and dinner when they’re meal prepping for the week. Snacks serve a handful of beneficial purposes, including:

  • Keeping your hunger in check between meals
    • You’re a lot less likely to want your healthy, prepared meal if you’re absolutely starving – avoiding reaching the “hangry” state keeps your appetite in a good place.
  • Getting extra nutrients in
    • I don’t love huge meals, so it’s hard for me to stomach all the protein I need during the day in a few portions of chicken. I use snacks as a tool by having small amounts of protein in between meals to ensure I hit my protein goal by the end of the day.
  • Making a healthy diet work with your lifestyle
    • Depending on your job and/or schedule, it’s not always possible to sit down, find a microwave or utensils, and eat a typical meal. Nutrient-dense snacks help you avoid going long periods without eating in these situations.

My tips and tricks:

  • Cut any fruit that won’t brown. I’ve found after slicing apples, they only stay good in the fridge for a couple days. I’ll slice and portion 2-3 apples at a time, and then repeat midweek. This works well for watermelon and strawberries, too.
  • Don’t leave chips, or anything that’s easy to grab and eat too much of, in the bag you bought it in. Separate them out into reasonable portions, so they’re perfectly sized for snacking. I pair these with hummus for a salty, satisfying snack.
  • Cucumbers are refreshing and crunchy, and you can eat a ton of them for a small caloric-value. When you get an itch to snack on something at your desk, these are an easy go to.
  • Hard boiled eggs are a great source of fat, protein, Vitamin A and Potassium. If you don’t like the consistency of the hard boiled yolk, or don’t have enough fat to spare, consider eating just the whites for quick, accessible protein. Hard boil a dozen or two with your meal prep, and then peel just a few at a time; repeat midweek to keep the outside fresh.
  • Portion out your favorite granola into small containers and pair with your favorite non-fat yogurt.
  • In terms of macros, rice cakes are pure carbs. They come in a ton of great flavors, and simple to take anywhere when you need to get some fuel in. They stay good for quite a while, so have plenty of these separated out on hand.
  • Sliced turkey is a great way to get some extra protein, especially if you get sick of chicken, beef and fish during your regular meals. I prefer the kind sliced by deli counter (as opposed to pre-packaged) to maintain a fresh texture and taste. It rolls up great by itself, or with a piece of cheese, tomato, hummus or lettuce wrapped in.
  • Salami, similarly to the sliced turkey, is a protein option that you don’t have to cook. It’s higher in fat than some alternatives, so you don’t need as large of a portion to feel satisfied.

When a food is nutrient-dense, it contains vitamins and minerals your body needs, outside of what you’re measuring by tracking macros. The most nutrient-dense foods come from the earth in the form of real foods, which you can read more about here. I think about nutrient-density as “more bang for your buck” kind of items, asking myself: how many vitamins, minerals and grams of fiber can I get in this food, for the lowest amount of calories?

For example: 100g of pretzels is about 380 calories, and contains vitamins such as Potassium, Iron and Magnesium. For the same amount of calories, you could have almost 450g (that’s 4.5x more!) of sweet potato and score more of the three nutrients found in pretzels, along with tons of Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin C. In this case, the sweet potato would be a much more nutrient-dense carb to choose.

The above example also highlights the concept of volume eating. It’s similar to nutrient-density in that you’re looking for the most “bang for your buck” in food quantities.

For example: 200g of spaghetti squash is about 60 calories; 1.2g protein, 1.2g fat, and 14g carbs. For roughly the same amount of calories and carbs, you’d only be able to have 46g of whole-wheat spaghetti. A plate of 200g of spaghetti squash vs. a plate of 45g of pasta will look and feel very different when you’re eating it. Certainly, the spaghetti will fuel your body differently than the spaghetti squash – however the concept here is how much food you can eat to achieve more volume without necessarily eating more calories. Eating high-volume foods can help you feel fuller, and easily increase the overall nutrient-density of your diet.

Idea: One of my favorite ways volume eating habits is to mix shredded cauliflower and rice together for the base of a stir-fry meal. 1 cup of jasmine rice is about 250 calories; 5g protein, 2g of fat and 52g carbs. 1 cup of shredded cauliflower is about 25 calories; 2g protein, 0g fat and 5g carbs. They both have similar consistencies, color, and take on flavor really well. By mixing the two, say 1/3 cup of jasmine rice and a full cup of cauliflower, you now have a bigger portion overall and get the best of both worlds: some hearty rice, more food on your plate (volume eating), and all the nutrients that cauliflower contains (nutrient-density).

For a refresher on what macros are, check out my blog post here.

Creating a kickass workspace

“There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.” -Dr B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford’s Persuasive Tech Lab (1)

I am fond of the concept that a person can be your “happy place” or that happiness lies in non-tangible things, but in this sense I’m going to literally talk about a happy place to be productive: a good home workspace.

Ask yourself: Where do you go to feed your creativity? Where is the place you can write, draw, read, type, program, design and draft those unique ideas of yours? In order to produce wonderful content of any kind, you have to have a wonderful place to do it. Makes sense right? Sure, ground-breaking projects have come from garages and spare bedrooms, but it’s certainly not ideal. If you haven’t considered this notion before, it’s a great time to do so. Many people need a space out of the office to get things done. Whether you’re in school, run a business out of your home, contribute to a blog, occasionally take work home, have to manage schedules and expenses for your family…the reasons continue, and ultimately, most of us require a computer-based work station at home.

I used to solely work out of coffee shops, under the impression that work shouldn’t be done at home, because for some reason occupying a Starbucks table would make me focus better than occupying my own kitchen table. This comes with a small handful of flaws in exchange for the tabletop surface: 1) Hopefully you’re sitting next to an outlet, otherwise your laptop battery life dictates your time to work, 2) Better yet, hopefully you remembered your charger, 3) Hope you packed snacks! Otherwise your appetite will stop your progress and if you’re anything like me, my stomach starts growling far before my computer dies, 4) You have to buy coffee (or something) at the establishment, 5) If you have to go to the bathroom, you have to pack up all your stuff and get it all out again. Or, leave it out and hurry through your business and bolt back out, crossing your fingers the people in that shop are of good morals, or don’t want your outdated laptop, 6) You’re risking how comfortable the chair is, how noisy or distracting the people in the shop are that day, and if there’s even a table available. (Saturday morning? Forget about it!)

Still think a chain coffeehouse is the best option? Don’t take my word for it. In 2010 a study done in London showed that employees who were given the opportunity to make decisions about the appearance of their workspace gained a sense of empowerment, making them 32% more productive with an increased sense of teamwork and job commitment, compared to those who weren’t given that same freedom(2).

Now, that’s not to say I don’t ever work at coffee shops. I enjoy meeting new people, trying different brews and a good change of scenery now and then — but for far too long I relied on this option because working at home didn’t feel like a productive option.

Someone told me back in college to never study in bed and that’s always stuck with me. Granted, I accidentally fell asleep on the couch or other places while studying so it didn’t stop me from snoozin’, but it did assist in not blurring the lines between work and relaxation.

After an overdue period of trying to get my elbow in the right position on the couch so I could still use the mouse, I decided I needed to invest the time in a happy place to work.

In Stephen R. Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, habit seven is named “Sharpen the Saw.” This title comes from the analogy of a woodcutter sawing for several days straight, becoming less productive each day as the act of sawing dulls the blade over time. Periodically stopping to sharpen the saw makes the action significantly more effective.

So, by driving to coffee shops all around town, only to work for an hour or two before an obstacle got in my way, or working on the couch where I was uncomfortable, I wasn’t working as efficiently as possible. Taking time to create a great workspace took time out of my day that I could’ve spent doing other things that needed to get done. I think you see where I’m going with this. So, by stopping to intentionally create an awesome workspace, I’m going to get so much MORE done. Sharpening my saw.

Now you’re probably wondering: “What can I do to improve my workspace?” Well, you’re in luck! I’m here to offer the guidance I recently sought, undergoing the same task. Not every suggestion will apply to every home office, but I hope you’ll find something useful to takeaway.

  • The great outdoors!

I sure would love an outdoor work space, but Phoenix gets really hot. So, bring the outdoors in.Adding a plant or two to your work area has been shown to lower stress levels (2). Similarly, try and set-up shop near a window with access to natural light and a view of the beautiful landscape, if possible. If that’s not an option, slightly pricey LED lighting mimics natural light, and while it’s not completely comparable it’s significantly better than dull, yellow lighting. If your house doesn’t offer an ocean-front view, try to situate yourself close enough that it’s convenient to grab fresh air and near good ventilation.

  • Where’s the desk?

If you’re unsure what color your desk is, that’s the first sign you have a problem. How can you get anything done if your space and materials are cluttered? This brings us back to sharpening the saw; take the necessary time to organize your things to set yourself up for success going forward. Need suggestions of ways to organize your papers and pens and everything in between? I like this article from CNN and this one from WikiHow with steps to declutter your work area.

  • A comfy seat

I don’t consider myself a chair snob, or a snob of any sort really. I’ll eat, sit, drink and talk almost anywhere. But if you say you’re not happier when you’re in a seat  that’s cozy on your back and rear-end, compared to an old, wobbly bar stool, well then it’s time to get off the bar stool.. Out with OfficeMax chairs and in with chic. No offense to the office supply retailers, but you won’t feel your happiest in a chair that looks like it came from your corporate office; I scored my comfy, decorative chair on sale at a department store. Places like JC Penney, Kohl’s, Hobby Lobby and Ross have mark-downs on attractive single chairs all the time — take a look!

  • Assume the position

A continuation, really, from picking a good chair, but deserving of it’s own separate thought: make sure you’re set up in a good position. Meaning: eye-level to desktop, elbows aren’t too low, back isn’t rounded, your feet have space to tap and your knees aren’t crowded. If you’re an ergonomics nerd, or do better with diagrams, check out Mayo Clinic’s article on setting up a healthy work station as it relates to body position here.

  • Get colorful

I suppose if black is your favorite color, I’m probably not talking to you. But for most us, colors boost our mood. I found a wealth of information on the different feelings and behaviors triggered by and associated with a variety of colors. Realizing there’s some science to support that blue is calming and red is good for focus and so on, I think the take home point is that color has a physiological effect on us and should be utilized to our benefit. Without crowding the walls and creating distraction, find a good balance to incorporate pictures, colors and design into your workspace. If you’re interested in learning more about colors impact on mood, givethis article a read from The Huffington Post.

  • Set the tone, literally

If you haven’t tried working in total silence, I recommend it. It’s really a breath of fresh air to take a break from a world constantly bombarding you with sounds. Furthermore, you could listen to music prior to working to get you pumped up for the task at hand. Still not sold? Feel free to keep your tunes on while working, but consider this interesting article I found on the types of music best for getting stuff done.

  • Make it personal

Figure out the small things that bring you joy, and incorporate those in your space. I love coffee and candles; so I invest in a pretty, sensational smelling candle and grab my favorite coffee cup before even considering settling in to work at home. I also try to eliminate distractions; I bring water to my desk so I won’t have to get up to get water, because once I get up I’ll see things to clean and do, other than working, and never make it back to my laptop. Your workspace is yoursand should reflect your likes, preferences and personality with things that remind you of pleasant memories and make you happy.

I hope you find one or more of these tips applicable to your life and workspace, and that you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to cultivate a place that makes you feel good and work well.

I’ll leave you with this:

“Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing things right.”

– Peter Drucker

Resources

  1. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/workspace-productivity-tips#sm.00000gl2p48wdef6iwlp40u3kvayt
  2. http://99u.com/articles/17437/the-perfect-workspace-according-to-science

Sick of counting sheep?

I’ve never liked bedtime. From a toddler to twenty-two, I’ve never been good at it. Falling asleep, staying asleep, quality, quantity, cat naps or long afternoon slumbers, the whole shebang is not my jam. Frankly, I’ve just adjusted to living on minimal rest and an arguably borderline unhealthy caffeine addiction.

It’s hard to deny that adequate sleep at night is the backbone of personal health: overall energy, exercise effectiveness, nutrition needs, cravings and efficiency, brain and cognitive function, the list goes on. When one area of your health lacks, it impacts the others and before you know it, one issue is the cause of several problems causing your quality of life to suffer.

While my primary interest of health has always been in nutrition specifically, it would be irresponsible to not acknowledge that all the pieces work together to supplement a healthy lifestyle. In thinking about what I can do to improve my personal health, I can no longer hide from the fact that sleep improvement is at the top of the priority list. Similarly, my mom has always said that if you have a question, chances are ten other people in the room have the same question. Therefore, I figure (and hope!) this information is helpful to at least one of you.

I’m grateful to know Chrissy Barron, Director of Operations at Nova 3 Labs. She lived in Arizona for a short time and I had the privilege of training with and being coach by her. She’s an exceptional athlete, hardworking entrepreneur, wizard of all things health, and an advocate for continuing education both personally and professionally. Early in our friendship from her frequent bursts of advice, I learned she has not only a background in but passion for all things sleep. I had a chance to catch up with her for this post, and although normally I prefer to write my pieces in my own words, her answers are so well-spoken (and expose her glowing personality) that I thought I would let Chrissy tell the story herself. It’s not a short read, but definitely worth it.

Preslie: Why do you feel quality and/or adequate sleep is important?

Chrissy: What if I could sell you a magic pill and the effects of the pill were: alertness, improvements with learning and attention, creativity, and better quality of life? You would give me all of your money for this right? Sounds like a new age Adderall, but I am not talking about a tangible item, I am talking about SLEEP!

Sleep quality is vital to your survival as a contributing human being to society! I know that can be a tad dramatic but in all honesty making sure you are getting enough quality sleep can help protect your mental health, quality of life and safety. Sleep studies show that a good night’s sleep can improve your learning, helps you pay attention, make decisions and be creative. Sleep helps with maintaining a healthy balance of hormones ghrelin (makes you feel hungry) and leptin, (makes you feel full) and also affects how your body reacts to insulin (the hormone that is in charge of your blood glucose levels).

Deep sleep promotes a healthy growth and development in teens and children, and also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens and adults (NHLBI, 2012), all things that are essential to success as an athlete! Lastly, but most important is your immune system; your immune systems relies on sleep to stay healthy. So you overwork yourself, under or over eat, and then under sleep and expect your body to get with it? Nu-uh! The immune system’s job is to defend your body against harmful substances, and when you have an ongoing sleep deficiency your immune system will change the way in which it responds which may result in your body having trouble fighting common infections!

This all seems a little far-fetched as I am sure most of you wake up each morning without feeling like superman, but why? Well I guess we should start with how do you measure sleep? According to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) there are a couple different ways to measure sleep including using a Polysomnograph (you can go to a sleep lab and get this measured, insurance usually covers one sleep study a year, usually used for clinical sleep disorders). For those of us normal humans that do not want to stay the night with a bunch of wires attached to our heads you can always record a sleep diary. In this diary you will record what time you fall asleep and wake up, the type of sleep you had (did it feel deep, restful, restless). I personally like to use the app “pillow” which measures the time you said you would go to sleep, what time you fell asleep, woke up and it also records your audio while you are sleep and the level of sound (snoring). This app is hard to utilize when you sleep with a partner and or (AND) a lovely 80lb animal in the bed who chooses to snore loud and walk around.

P: When did you first discover the importance of sleep, and how?

C: This all started about two years ago when I accepted a job as a Medical Sales Territory Manager for the second largest sleep lab company in Southern California. Throughout my training I not only learned how to interpret, understand and explain sleep reports with a Polysomnography (PSG) as well as Electroencephalograms (EEG), but we also expanded our reach into seizures (adult and pediatric) where I learned to understand the EEG reports and was expected to provide insightful information to physicians and physicians’ offices regarding sleeping issues.

P: How has your life changed since you started sleeping better?

C: When I was introduced to Nova around a year and a half ago I had very minimal sleep quality, I was very stressed out from work, training and I was really run down internally. I had a consult with Mike Kesthely, CEO of Nova 3 Labs, where aside from the nutritional changes, and supplementation, he said if he could change anything at this moment that would help me exponentially it would be my sleep duration and quality. I was ordered to start working on that ASAP. Since focusing more on my sleep duration and quality, fixing my nutrition and taking the added supplements that my body needed, my overall energy has been higher, my workouts feel better (more energy going into them) and my focus has improved.

P: I remember you told me once you had to teach yourself and practice going to bed. Can you explain that?

C: I had to teach myself good sleep hygiene, what is sleep hygiene? Whenever I bring this up to people I assume they think I am asking if they showered before bed, which is not what I am looking for, but thanks for sharing  Sleep Hygiene is different practices that are necessary to maintain normal, high quality sleep at nighttime and daytime alertness. The National Sleep Foundation provides some awesome examples of sleep hygiene, I will re-cap some below.

  • Avoid napping during the day
  • Avoid stimulants (caffeine) too close to bedtime (within 4-5 hours)
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine
  • Sleep in as dark of a room as possible (blackout curtains)

P: What is your bedtime ritual?

C: I take Max Sleep right before getting into bed, and get into bed 30-45 minutes prior to wanting to go to sleep, I relax by reading a book, (playing on your phone isn’t ideal due to the blue light, even with the new upgrade), and make sure the fan is on and the curtains are close, oh and that the pup is also under the covers, duh.

P: What kind of factors promote good sleep?

C: Good sleep hygiene will promote sleep, along with lack of caffeine 4-5 hours before bed, adequate nutrition and if needed the right supplementation (i.e Max Sleep, melatonin, GABA, etc.)

P: If you could give advice to someone who doesn’t sleep well now, what would you say?

C: Start small and hack away at your sleep issues. Go into your bedroom and make a mental checklist: Do you sleep in a light room? Do you play on your phone before bed? Do you drink alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime? Do you have a balanced meal at dinner? Start small and hack away at this list, changing one thing at a time and soon you will be a SLEEP MASTER!

Note: The “caffeine” link takes you to an article about what caffeine is and how it affects the body.

P: In your opinion, when is supplementation necessary to help someone sleep?

C: This is hard for me to answer because everyone is different. I would argue that if you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep you should first look at all of the non-supplementation factors you can change, along with sleep hygiene. If you are still having trouble with sleep onset or duration, then consider supplementation.

P: Are there any academic/trusted resources you look to for information on this topic, or health in general?

C: I refer to this site a lot, https://sleepfoundation.org, along with:http://www.gssiweb.org/en/home.


As always, your feedback is encouraged and appreciated. If you try these tips, or have your own, please let me know — and share this post with a friend who may benefit as well!

You can contact Chrissy at chrissy@nova3labs.com.

Reader note: Preslie never has been or is currently sponsored/endorsed by or affiliated with Nova 3 Labs and/or their products.

References: Why Is Sleep Important? (2012). Retrieved December 04, 2016.

So you wanna eat healthier...

Let me rephrase, so you’re going to start eating healthier; because truth be told you probably don’t want to. If we could eat pizza and ice cream all day and achieve the same results as chicken and broccoli, well, we would all probably opt for the first option. But because it doesn’t work that way (damn), you’ve taken it upon yourself to spruce up your diet. Whether you want that 6-pack you’ve been thinking about, to fit into old jeans, impress your peers at holiday gatherings, or just feel better, the list of motivators goes on.

People contact me all the time wanting to improve their physique and performance, but are clueless as to where to start. To no fault of their own, they usually ask the wrong questions and ignore important factors in their success and make changes to ones with small impact. Based on common mistakes, here’s a couple examples of what I’m talking about: being worried about your post-workout recovery drink when you aren’t eating at all (or are eating crap) before you workout; being concerned about the aspartame in your diet soda, when you are still drinking that high-calorie, sugar-saturated coffee beverage in the morning; obsessing over calories, rather than quality.

Look folks, getting in a groove with your nutrition isn’t an easy feat. It takes time, trial and error, self-motivated education, planning and the forming of good habits, amongst other things. That’s not at all to say it’s too difficult for you to accomplish, however it is a tremendous lifestyle change and mindset shift, and especially if you’re new to the “healthy eating” concept, getting it perfect right off the bat is both unlikely and overwhelming. Shoot for excellence, not perfection.

Pick your battles: identify your largest barriers to success, and attack the biggest threats first. Create good, sustainable habits there, and then move forward. It’s like how in the Chinese Olympic Weightlifting methodology, they’re forced to execute movements time and time again with an empty bar, achieving flawless technique almost mindlessly, before graduating to adding weight. In your kitchen, make sure you’re focusing on the most important components of your diet first, before worrying about the smaller stuff. Think of it like a pyramid, the smaller stuff at the top (supplements, micronutrients, nutrient timing), doesn’t matter much if your foundation (quality, quantity, consistency) is rocky.

Okay, soap box rant over, on to the good stuff.

Cut the crap

Identify the worst parts of your diet and fix those first. If there are several, it’ll be pretty tough to eliminate multiple unhealthy behaviors simultaneously. But work on them one or two at a time, and replace them with better habits. If you always eat Taco Bell for lunch and you cut fast food, then you won’t have lunch; by replacing Taco Bell with a more nutritious lunch, now you’re cultivating healthy habits. Before I give you my list of what to “cut”, I must mention the disclaimer that an expectation to eat clean 100% of the time is unrealistic — I’m not saying to never eat fast food again, what I am saying is that it should not be a regular thing, rather an indulgence, and a very infrequent one to achieve an overall healthy lifestyle.

Now, these are your biggest offenders:

  • Fast Food (including delivery, pizza, or frozen meals)
  • Soda (including diet)
  • Sugar (candy, desserts, fruit juice)
  • Snack foods (chips, for example)
  • High-fat dairy (butter, 2% milk)
  • Processed carbohydrates (white bread, bagels)

I encourage you to try and eliminate these behaviors (slowly, if needed), as they are inhibiting your progress holistically. Going back to the introduction, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting all your supplements in and having a healthy dinner once in awhile if you’re eating/drinking all of the above on a regular basis.

Challenge:  Cook more! If you’re intimidated by the kitchen, start slow and easy. I’m in the process of writing a post on what I make week to week, as it’s simplistic and definitely indicative of my lack of chef skills. By preparing your food at home, you know what’s in it and it’s immensely cheaper than eating out.

Portions

Do you eat breakfast because it’s morning, or because you’re hungry? Do you eat chips and salsa while watching football, just because the game is on? I advocate that you live deliberately, and less out of mindless habit when it comes to eating patterns. Give your metabolism a chance to work, and it will return the favor by expending the energy you intake. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. I realize that’s much easier said than done, here’s some tips to help:

  • Eat dinner at the table, not in front of the TV
  • Don’t eat in your car (unless it’s a quick, pre-planned snack)
  • After serving your plate at home, put the rest of the food away
  • When eating out, ask that half of the entree be placed in a to-go container
  • Wait 15 minutes before grabbing a second helping at home
  • ALWAYS drink water with your meal
  • Drink water when you feel hungry, before grabbing food (often we think we’re hungry, when we’re actually just dehydrated!)

Consistency

In all my time helping friends, family, clients and members of my gym, this has, without a doubt, been the most common barrier to success. Eat the same amount, day to day. Notice I didn’t say “foods”, but rather quantity. Your body can’t get in a groove if you’re starving it one day, and overfeeding it the next. Get in a routine so it can balance the energy and use the excess calories for fuel. Furthermore, if you’re doing something consistently, you can tell whether or not it’s working. If your quantities are all over the place, it makes it practically impossible to identify what needs to be changed to foster success.

Especially if you’re new to a healthy lifestyle, I strongly recommend tracking everything you eat. Whether that’s in the MyFitnessPal app, a notebook, whatever your preference. Results are generated by analyzing data. Create the data.

Note: generally speaking, the above explains why macro “dieting” works so well for people, especially over time. To understand more about this topic, read my previous posts about what they are and how to count them.

I hope you find this information helpful. Share with a friend who might need some ideas, and I sincerely appreciate any comments/feedback.

CrossFit athletes: How the simple rules you’re breaking are inhibiting your progress

You’re kicking ass in the gym: mobilizing, warming-up, getting after it in metcons, crushing your barbell lifts and maybe even catching a yoga class or grabbing the foam roller occasionally. But the fact of the matter is you can only get so fit without nailing a couple principles located outside the walls of Magna. You’ve heard “you can’t out-train a bad diet”; it goes hand-in-hand with the lesser known phrases like “you need lots of good food to get strong” or “beer doesn’t count toward your water intake”.

These concepts are rooted in science and practice, utilized by our coaches and Games athletes alike. In many cases, people don’t realize they don’t feel optimal, until they feel better. Consider your current habits and note areas of improvement given the general guidelines below; a friendly reminder to adequately supplement your exercise efforts. Hold yourself accountable, and to a higher standard, to reach your fullest potential as an athlete (and a healthy human being).

Drink More Water

If you’re thirsty, you’re already too dehydrated. Aim to drink a gallon per day, and don’t count things like coffee, milk, or flavored liquids toward your intake. Getting plenty of H2O is critical for proper cognitive function, muscle and joint health, digestion, and not dying on the rower. If you’re struggling to get sips in, try these ideas: have water handy every time you have a meal/snack, set an alarm on your phone every half hour to drink 5 big gulps, draw lines on a gallon jug to set incremental deadlines, track your water in the MyFitnessPal app, or aim to fill up your Hydroflask a certain amount of times per day.

Then, Drink Less Alcohol

This seems like a given, but definitely a necessary discussion. Alcohol carries the second most calories-per-gram, just under fat. This substance dehydrates your body and depletes your organs of the energy it needs not just to exercise, but to build muscle and capacity. Although I’m not advocating for completely abstaining, be mindful that a best practice would be to enjoy alcohol in the same matter you indulge in birthday cake — for special occasions. If consuming alcohol is a regular pastime for you, cutting back even a little bit will make a world of difference in how you perform, how you feel and how you look.

Eat Pre and Post Workout

You need to give your body fuel to expend during training: plain and simple. A car doesn’t go very far without gas. Get some quality food in 90 minutes before you get to the gym, and play with what foods make you feel better than others (rice vs. potatoes before cardio, for example). Fat is a good source for strength and skill work, and carbs are your go-to for aerobic training/endurance.

Contrary to popular belief, gains are made during recovery, not necessarily while working out. During exercise our body is tearing muscle fibers and being exhausted of fuel sources. Gettingenough of the right stuff after training gets the rebuilding process going. The better you strategize your post-workout plan, the better you’ll feel in terms of soreness and energy levels the next day and throughout the week, and over time in regards to health and longevity. This meal should have lots of carbs, some protein and a minimum amount of fat because we want the body to cash in on these nutrients ASAP. Keep in mind that what works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work best for you, too.

Furthermore, I mentioned “quality” and “right” when discussing food choices. These terms are relative, but generally refer to things with less crap in them; meaning product labels with few ingredients, plant-based foods, lean meats, lots of veggies, whole grains, carb sources with little sugar, and healthy fat sources. Don’t obsess over advertising claims and health fads, like Organic or gluten-free. Strive to eat a variety of colors and nutrient-dense foods, primarily coming from things that can be grown or killed. (You can read more about my thoughts on eating real food from a previous post here.)

Then, Eat More

To create an understanding, without getting too technical: everyone has a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or how many calories you burn at rest/just walking around throughout the day. This number is influenced by a few things, one of which is how much lean muscle mass you have. So take that indicator, add in the amount of calories you burn working out, and consider that you need a surplus of calories to build muscle. It’s clear that many athletes are eating far below what that caloric total is, essentially starving themselves and simultaneously training at a high volume/intensity. Over the long term, this will make you feel terrible, inhibit progress, and wreak havoc on your metabolism.

Try tracking your food, even for the sake of getting an accurate look at how much you’re typically eating. Then, try having smaller meals more often, adding in calories/increasing your daily average slowly, and changing up where you get your nutrients from. Don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry, but experiment to make sure you’re sufficiently fueling your body. You can also find out your BMR through the InBody machine at Nutrishop.

I hope you found these reminders of some simple nutrition rules helpful, and as always please don’t hesitate to reach out to myself, BK or any Magna Coach with questions or for clarification — we are always happy to help.

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.
— Greg Glassman (CrossFit Founder, CrossFit Journal, World Class Fitness in 100 Words)

Note: This post was written specifically for members of my gym, CrossFit Magna, thus why it is referenced above. However, the subject is applicable to many other CrossFit athletes which is why I wanted to share it through this platform as well.

Picking a path

After my last figure competition, I felt completely lost. My entire life revolved around show prep, and when the show was over I experienced a dramatic disconnect with my identity. I had grown to hate bodybuilding. I didn’t want to do fasted cardio on the StairMaster, touch another machine, eat plain fish or drink coffee with 17 Splendas anymore. I was bored of the bland diet and even more so of the training method. I had gained a significant amount of weight from my post-show rebound eating habits, water bloat, and metabolic damage; the constant reminder from all the mirrors in the globo-gym was overwhelming.

At the time, a friend of mine was doing CrossFit and absolutely loved it. While I always poked fun at him and the sport as whole (because I clearly knew what I was talking about…), my curiosity and desperation led me to secretly drop into a beginner class at a local CrossFit gym. I was immediately hooked. The people were nice, the workout kicked my ass, I had so much to learn about the sport and the culture, and above all, it was challenging. I signed-up the same day and dove head first into the world of functional fitness.

Now fast forward about 18-months to today. Since then, I’ve changed gyms once (you can read about that here), got certified to coach, have a couple local CrossFit competitions under my belt and have been really committed to the goal of earning a spot to compete on a team at Regionals.

In this same year and a half span, I’ve also done four Olympic Weightlifting meets. These are local competitions where you show up in a singlet, weigh-in, and get six attempts at two different lifts in front of a few judges and a small crowd.

As a little background: weightlifting is a component of CrossFit, but is a separate sport entirely. CrossFit uses weightlifting movements and trains the modality, but doesn’t adhere to the same standards or train it in volume by the same capacity that the singular sport does. Weightlifting is an olympic sport founded in the early 1900’s which measures the athlete’s best successful lift in snatch and clean & jerk, not to be confused with powerlifting — which tests max deadlift, bench and back squat. CrossFit was branded in 2000, and uses weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics and interval training, amongst many other things, to execute constantly varied high-intensity exercise.

I just really liked weightlifting from the get-go. I was inspired by big names in the sport with bold, unapologetic personalities, and the raw emotion and powerful movements they’d elicit in everyday training. I liked the idea of being strong, yet fast. Lifting heavy, very gracefully. My competitive character, along with the handful of friends I’ve made that train solely weightlifting, encouraged me to do these competitions and while going into each one rather unprepared (because I’ve been doing CrossFit), I loved the experience.

I did my last weightlifting meet a couple weeks ago, the first one I’ve participated in where I had any kind of chance at accomplishing something noteworthy. There are national meets held throughout the year, and an athlete earns their opportunity to compete at one of these bad boys by achieving a certain total (total = combined successful attempt at snatch and clean & jerk), based on their weight class, at a local meet during the qualification period. The heaviest both snatch and clean & jerk I ever made equaled the total I needed for Universities: which is essentially a national meet for college-age athletes. The day before the qualification deadline I tried to match those numbers on the platform and was unable to do so. While I actually PR’d snatch, I missed the jerk twice on my clean & jerk and thus didn’t total high enough to qualify.

It’s weird really, that this disappointment led me to re-evaluate my athletic goals. I drove 90 minutes home from that meet alone, the whole car ride repeatedly telling myself that I would come back and clean & jerk 80kg, and more, on a platform to prove to myself I am capable of greater than what I let the judges see that day. In order get better at weightlifting, like a lot better…enough so that I could compete on a national level, I would have to focus all of my energy on that sport alone. It’s incredibly difficult to become an elite CrossFit athlete and an elite weightlifter simultaneously, because the two training methods, and respective optimal nutrition protocol, contradict each other. But boy, I love CrossFit.

That brings me to this moment, sitting at my computer wondering what I’ll do at the gym this afternoon because frankly, I still haven’t picked a focus: pursuing weightlifting as a new venture, or continue on with CrossFit and my goals there. The optimist would suggest doing both, similar to how I have been, because clearly I get enjoyment from each sport. Although the realist would argue that my stubborn nature requires working toward a specific goal to feel fulfilled and successful, and therefore needs to narrow my scope to one sport.

When I step back, it’s really quite silly that I can write at such length about a seemingly small decision (and this is the edited version! My poor brain). It’s true that my athleticism won’t ever pay the bills. I won’t soon earn a trip to the CrossFit Games or medal in Olympic Weightlifting on behalf of the USA. And frankly, whatever accolades that fall directly below those huge achievements, well I probably won’t reach those either. And that’s not to be pessimistic, it’s important to be candid with yourself about what’s realistic to achieve based on the time and money you have to commit, influenced by the other things in your life. I make sacrifices all the time for these sports, such as paying for access to a gym membership or healthy food for fuel over other things, or missing time with friends/family to work out. But I won’t ever be able to quit my job to pursue them full-time, which is typical of the professional or highest level athlete.

But you know, the same way that people obsess over their dog, fantasy football, or other hobbies and pastimes, is the same way I feel about CrossFit and weightlifting. And there’s no shame in that. If I have to pick an activity to consume so much of my time, emotion and energy, well I’m glad it’s something that brings me happiness and is good for health.

That’s really what it boils down to. It’s a little stressful for me to feel like I have to pick between the two sports and dial in my training accordingly to really grow as an athlete and compete. But ultimately, I have a ton of fun when I’m doing CrossFit, AND when I’m weightlifting. And if it’s never going to be my source of income or success, well then having fun is a really important component.

Similarly, it’s crucial to distinguish the difference between who you are and what you do. I wasn’t ever “Preslie: the figure competitor” as my primary identity (even though it felt that way). I was “Preslie: the sister, friend, daughter, student and employee, who enjoyed figure competing.” Creating the person you are as an accumulation of things you practice and believe, strive to be and enjoy doing creates a well-roundedness that can’t be cultivated by identifying yourself synonymously as the sport you play.

For most areas in your life, it’s simpler to be completely committed or absolutely unaffiliated, than it is to live in that sweet spot in the middle. It’s far easier on the mind to be too terribly engulfed in something that it’s unhealthy or unsustainable, or alternatively to be so distant that you refrain from interaction with that same thing. To find and regularly do something that brings you joy, health, longevity, and meets the needs of whatever your personality desires (competitiveness, relaxation, an outlet, etc.), that is an extraordinary measure of a good hobby and true personal success.

 

Extremes are easy, strive for balance.
— Colin Wright

Lunchtime thoughts

I started a new job this week. It’s full blown corporate life: big building, lots of offices, important business, professional outfits, the whole 9-yards. I can expand on the position later, but I’d like you to note this is a dramatic change from my college barista gig I had for the last two years, and recently quit to start this job.

This afternoon I was sitting in the break area eating my Tupperware-packed lunch reflecting on what is now my third day of training; embracing a very different lifestyle. Not only is what I’m doing different, but my hours of work, when I’m able to workout, appearance expectations, my meal planning, and more – all have flipped upside-down as of two days ago.

My roommate texted me and asked how today is going (she’s incredibly supportive during this life transition for me – so grateful). I had nothing but positive, enthusiastic things to reply, and recognizing my reaction created such a happy feeling for me – or what I refer to as feeling like your cup is full. This leads me to the thoughts that inspired this post.

I’ve always defined filling up your cup as a combination of what makes your soul happy, what brings joy and contentment into your life, or what makes you feel proud.  Typically, I associate these with actions that are specific, for example: working at Dutch Brothers and going to my gym — CrossFit Magna.

With my time-crunched workouts this week and the acknowledgement of how this new job makes me feel, I have come to realize that whatever you do to fill up your cup, can, and perhaps should, be much more broad than your place of work or your specific gym. That’s a cool concept, right? That if you can widen the spectrum of things that fill up your cup, you will initiate that feeling of raw happiness more often.

Let me explain. Working at Dutch Brothers just poured into my cup every single day I was there. But it wasn’t actually working at that location doing those specific tasks that caused that feeling, it was being surrounded by people that loved and cared about me, and with whom the feeling was mutual. It was doing a job that I knew I was good at and could execute well. It was having the opportunity to talk to people, relate to them, and try to make their day better than before they spoke to me. It was understanding the business on such a level that I felt comfortable helping new employees and confident talking to those in leadership. Similarly, going to my CrossFit gym pours into my cup because I love embracing the ability to better myself, and to challenge myself physically and mentally. It’s because I appreciate genuine relationships, both the long ones and forming new. It’s because it plays to my goal-oriented personality and gives me a sense of accomplishment, and so much more. By taking a step back and identifying the more generic reasons for why these facets of my life fill up my cup, I can actually take those principles and apply them to other areas of my life.

I can find these qualities in my new job. I can cultivate an attitude that identifies ways this position makes me feel challenged, confident, and causes me to build genuine relationships, the way my previous job did. I can truly find them in many places, which is very reassuring because you never know where life might take you. I couldn’t have predicted I would be in the position I am now, working in administration for a company’s produce division. But while sitting here in the lunchroom on day three, based on what I’ve explained above, I am completely confident in saying that I already have and will continue to find ways that this career fills up my cup. I hope you do the same with the different areas of your life.

Love is the remedy

Following the amazing upset by the Cleveland Cavalier’s during game 7 of the NBA finals, the TV station cut to their usual news broadcast. My roommate and I were relaxing on the couch, reflecting on the emotions we felt watching LeBron cry tears of gratitude. Not even a few minutes into the newscast, we couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the amount of terrible, heart-breaking pieces. Story after story of deaths, robberies and nation-wide acts of hate were being presented and the negativity was wearing on us quickly.

I studied journalism in high school and college, but even basic media literacy should cause you to understand that negative content generally gains viewership, and that the positive stories aren’t as in-demand as tales of unfortunate events. It’s important as a consumer to remember that a media outlet is still a business, thus always striving to make money as the primary goal.

Anyhow, our conversation ensued about how we can’t fathom how certain people could act in such merciless, destructive ways toward others. And I don’t feel qualified to speculate, nor do I feel this is the appropriate platform to do so, although I do firmly suggest that maintaining optimism, hope, and an awareness of what is going on in the world around you (without letting it making you jaded) is a very valuable practice.

A friend of mine sent this quote to me the other day, perfectly relating to this recent experience. The following is a response to the famous phrase from Gandhi: you must be the change you wish to see in the world.

“It’s easy to get frustrated by all the violence and pain being experienced around the world, and even easier to feel helpless about it. But rather than sitting around waiting for the world to change, it’s better to start making changes within your own sphere of influence. The theory behind this quote is that if everyone tended to his or her own selves, the world would be the way we all want it to be. What can you do today that would help make the world around you a better place? By making the changes you wish the world would make, you instantly and automatically make the world better.” -Jenna Phillips-Ballard

I’d like to leave you with another Ted talk (I’ve told you I love these), which I came across this afternoon. It’s less than 10 minutes, thought-provoking and inspiring — what more can you ask for? It’s called “I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace” and the video is attached to the bottom of this post. 

In the video the speaker, Zak Ebrahim, says: “On a nightly basis, Jon Stewart forced me to be intellectually honest with myself about my own bigotry and helped me to realize that a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation had nothing to do with the quality of one’s character.”

I can’t decide which part I love more, the beautiful outcome of one person taking it upon themselves to accept and love others, or that he points out that you can find inspiration anywhere, including from people whom you don’t know personally. While his situation was out of his control, he managed his circumstances by creating his own positive environment and acknowledging the lessons his childhood experiences taught him.

Thank you to Mr. Ebrahim, for not only being courageous enough to share your story with the world, but also taking it upon yourself to cultivate a character you’re proud of, and loving people.

Eyes on the prize

To expand a little bit on my post about a busy spring season, the last 6 months of my life were without a doubt the absolute hardest I’ve been through. In January, my best friend moved away for the Army. I was in 24 credits of college classes, working (4am wake up call), serving an internship, training 6x per week at a gym 40 minutes away, looking for a new career, and blogging— all while trying to keep my food prepped and other adult things like keeping my house and clothes clean and my car running. Additionally, my roommate of the last few years moved out and my gastrointestinal issues worsened, leading to nights in the ER, afternoons in bed and SO many doctors appointments. Needless to say, sleep fell to the bottom of my priority list.

I was pushing my limits and pounding espresso shots like today was the last day of my life. And my loved one assured me on several occasions that that outcome was only slightly farfetched with how I was treating my body and running myself into the ground. I distinctly remember, and can now laugh, when I think about how one evening I went to flush the toilet and it broke. I immediately sank to my knees in tears because this was clearly the absolute end of the world. Or, I was exhausted and on my last strand of patience.

Now I’m not looking for pity, everything on my plate either needed to be there or I wanted it there. My point in spelling it all out specifically is to demonstrate that the plate was in fact full, too full. People would tell me I needed more rest and in my head all I could think is “when?!”

But look! I’m here and I survived and frankly, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long, long time. I hope you never let your plate get so full that you sob when an appliance breaks, but this experience was valuable to me for a few reasons.

I achieved what I set out for: I taught myself that with a diligent work ethic and concentrated efforts toward specific goals, I can do just about anything.

I utilized my support system: my friends, family and training partners unprompted, frequently reminded me that they were proud of me, that this would all pay off, and that they were here for an ear or anything I needed.

I included “balance” in my schedule: training is a relief for me, amongst the craziness every single day, I couldn’t wait to get to the gym. And on rest days it was meal prepping or cooking dinner; finding something that brings me joy without getting too off track.

I learned about priorities and efficiency: This was a “learn to swim or sink” kind of lesson, though it worked just the same. I discovered by cleaning the house while breakfast was cooking, I could maximize my time. I would study in the doctor’s office, track every task and appointment in my mobile calendar, and prep my gym bag the night before as not to forget my sneakers in a rush. I wish I would’ve thoughtfully considered a few of these strategies initially, rather than discover them the hard way as I went along.

I may have learned these concepts in a less than ideal way, but I will carry them forward and am grateful for their lessons and the empowerment the experience brought me. By putting these tools in my back pocket, I am well-equipped for any challenge life throws me. In the midst of your most difficult periods, try to remember it does end and things will get better. Stay focused, stay consistent and remind yourself often (and nicely) what it is you’re working toward.

Quick thoughts: “So many years of education, and nobody ever taught us to love ourselves or why it’s so important”

Confidence is hard. Body peace is hard. A healthy relationship with food and training is hard. And hell, being honest about this stuff is hard. But you know what’s a lot harder? Being unhappy. You absolutely can’t reach your fullest potential coming from a place of negativity. During the destruction, and rebuilding process, of my metabolism, body composition and self-worth I’ve learned that your mentality is your single most powerful weapon. And just as importantly, you need to have a genuine, positive group of people in your life supporting you (as I was graciously reminded of today). Be honest with yourself: if what you’re doing and/or investing in isn’t rooted in love, it’s the wrong thing for you. Apply this to every area of your life, and give yourself the opportunity to experience what it’s like to thrive.

The trick with rebuilding yourself is to be sure you use the right materials and tools for the job. A healthy mind and body, a worthy goal, and dependable friends are all vital components in the construction of a new you. Remember, a skyscraper is only as strong as the steels it’s made of.
— Beau Taplin
That’s me! This picture was taken in the summer of 2014.

That’s me! This picture was taken in the summer of 2014.