A few months ago a friend texted me upset about her weigh in that morning. I answered her nutrition and training questions, however, the advice I thought might actually help her the most had nothing to do with diet or exercise. It had to do with the way she was talking to herself. It was like one of the mean girls from that movie with Lindsay Lohan had taken up residence in her head.
Do you find yourself beating yourself up when you eat something you're "not supposed" to eat, when you eat too much, when you sleep in instead of work out, or when the scale won't budge? There's a saying that I see a lot on social media these days "You'll never get the body you want hating the one you have." Now, I bet it's actually possible to get a smoking hot body while talking trash about yourself. The problem with that plan though? I mean besides the obvious fact that that's just an awfully unpleasant way to live! Your mean-girl, trash talking voice will keep you from seeing what's really there even after you've smashed your goals. You'll still be in there finding flaws and jumping all over yourself for any perceived infraction. You will crave the next compliment on your figure, desperately wanting that positive affirmation from anyone willing to give it, that you're looking good.
So what can we do to silence our inner mean girl? This is the advice I shared with my friend: The next time you catch yourself in the middle of hurling a verbal molotov cocktail at yourself pretend you're talking to one of your children. What would that sound like? Imagine your child was working towards a goal and struggling to make progress, what would you say? How would you help? Can you imagine "helping out" by berating her or him? Of course not! What are some things you might actually say?
Keep on working at it.
You'll get there.
Be proud of how far you've come.
You've got this.
Don't give up now.
Don't worry about it.
Everyone messes up sometimes.
Just get back on track.
You know what to do.
I know you can do it.
Its just a small setback.
What if we said one of those things to ourselves the next time we overindulge, notice the scale not moving or discover that our pants are tighter than usual? It's interesting to me that self compassion often doesn't come as naturally as compassion for others. It takes practice to begin talking to ourselves this way. Imagine though reaching our physique goals and having our inside be just as beautiful as our outside, and best of all being able to see and acknowledge that beauty.
Be good to yourselves ladies! If you feel so inclined to share I'd love to know -what is your biggest nutrition or fitness struggle? FitGirl Total Transformations is all about finding sustainable solutions to women's fitness and nutrition struggles.
Since I'm on vacation I was able to enjoy one of life's little pleasures- browsing slowly through a bookstore. I ended up with an armful of books by the time I checked out, and have spent the last 5 days highlighting and writing notes in the margins of one of them. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, a New York Times bestseller, details how habits are formed and even more importantly how habits can be changed.
I am convinced that the key to successful, lasting body recomposition (fat loss+ muscle gain) lies in systematically changing our habits. So a book highlighting the relevant scientific research on the subject was a great find! If you've ever tried to stop biting your nails, start running every morning or give up drinking your daily sodas you well know that it is a lot easier said than done to change our habits. While The Power of Habit doesn't offer a step by step checklist to habit change it does list the key ingredients and ideas on where to start. I highly recommend reading the book in it's entirety, but in the meantime let me share just one important take-away.
Mr. Duhigg discusses a Harvard study of "people who radically changed their lives." One frequent occurrence noted during the study was that people "changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier." Think about that for a moment. What about being a part of a social group could make change easier? My guess was accountability. And perhaps that is a piece of it, but it's not what the Harvard study found.
So, what did they find? Belief. That's right! When a person joins a group and sees others changing it helps that individual believe change is actually possible. And that belief is key to permanent habit change. Todd Heatherton, one of the Harvard psychologists who conducted the study, puts it like this "[Change] seems real when we can see it in other people's eyes."
I can totally relate to this. Last summer I joined Oxygen Magazine's Oxygen Challenge. During this challenge participants had the chance to be lead by two amazing fitness professionals (I chose 2x Figure Olympia champ Erin Stern). Our coaches provided us with meal plans and training plans for three months. The opportunity to learn from Erin, combined with fabulous prize offerings is why I joined the challenge. An additional bonus, that I was unaware of when I joined, turned out to be the key to many participants' success. That unexpected bonus was a private Facebook page where we could interact with all of the other women on our team (and our fabulous coach as well!) We posted progress pictures, asked questions, shared successes, celebrated victories, consoled each other when we fell short, offered advice and a listening ear, and just walked our separate journeys together.
During this first Oxygen Challenge and the second one currently happening it has been a pretty common occurrence to see posts like this: I'm 40 years old, please someone tell me that it's still possible to lose the weight. I had a c-section, please someone tell me they've successfully gotten rid of the c-section pooch. I have a bad knee, has anyone been able to successfully do this program with a bad knee? In response to these posts would come dozens of responses, many with accompanying pictures showing that yes, all of these things were possible! I love reading the excited responses of the original poster and others like her who were wondering the same thing. Inevitably they express their thanks for others showing them that the change they desired was possible. They now believe it is possible because they see others like them doing it!
So the take home message, ladies? Don't go it alone. Find a community (even a community of one other person will do according to The Power of Habit.) Share your journey. Maybe you'll even end up being the one to help another believe that change is possible. And that is one of life's greatest pleasures.
Yesterday my family hiked to Spectra Point in Cedar Breaks National Park, located in breathtakingly beautiful Southern Utah. We are not veteran hikers, and most of our hiking has taken place in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania where we live. The sign at the trailhead warning us to keep hold of our children to prevent them from falling off the cliff edges was my first clue this hike might be a little different. For much of the hike we were just a few feet away from open cliff edges that dropped thousands of feet to the jagged canyon floor below. My heart was racing as we picked our way carefully up and down the winding, sometimes steep, and even slick trail.
At one point towards the end of the hike after a particularly nerve wracking section of the trail my daughter and I rounded a bend and were met by my son who cheerfully greeted us by saying "Guess what? We didn't die!" It was a much needed tension breaker for me and I burst out laughing. His words continued to rattle around in my head as we finished the hike and started the long car ride to our next destination.
You see, for most of my life I would have described myself as a fearful person. There was a time when I would have certainly turned back as soon as I saw the warning sign at the beginning of the trail, unable to push past my fear even with the promise of amazing, one of a kind views. The fact that I was able to complete this hike, even though I was most definitely afraid, is kind of a personal big deal for me. It's evidence of an internal change that began with getting my external self in shape.
This is such a great side effect of getting fit. Really when I started my fitness journey I wasn't interested in internal change. I just was tired of being fat. Plain and simple. But along the way not only did I drop pounds, I dropped a lot of mental baggage. Being paralyzed by fear is one of them. How did this happen? I had to push myself to lose the weight. I had to continuously face some of my fears: What if I look ridiculous? What if I don't know what I'm doing? What if it doesn't work? What if I can't do it? What if I backslide? What if I'm hungry all the time? What if I get injured? What if the people around me don't support me? I dealt with each of these fears more than once. Let me share with you two strategies I used to push past my fears.
The first one goes back to what my son said to me on the trail... "Guess what? We didn't die." When a fear would crop up I would ask myself "What is the worst thing that will happen if my fear is realized?" Unlike on the Cedar Breaks trail, death was never a possibility! What if I did look ridiculous? What's the worst thing that could happen? Maybe someone would laugh at me, or make a rude comment. What if I lost a bunch of weight and then backslid, what's the worst thing that could happen? I'd have to start over. I'd feel discouraged. I'd be embarrassed. The worst case scenario was inevitably something I knew I could deal with, even if it was not desirable. And, interestingly, it was almost always better than dealing with how I'd feel doing the alternative, which was giving in to fear and just not trying at all.
While we were towards the beginning of the the trail we could look way out in the distance to the rim on the other side of the canyon. We could see people out on that part of the trail, and I thought to myself, "There's no way we'll make it all the way over there." Less than an hour later we were on the other side looking back at the people just starting. It was a great moment (partly because the look out point was surrounded by a nice tall guard rail and we could enjoy the view without the threat of a long fall to our death).
The part of the trail directly before the look out point had a smallish drop on the left side and a drop of several thousand feet on the right hand side, creating a kind of short bridge. As we watched my husband and son cross in front of us I heard my 10 year old daughter psyching herself up to do the same. "Ok. We can do this. Just one step at a time. Let's just look at our feet." She kept up the pep talk as we crossed: "We're stepping. Another step. Ok. Just a few more steps. Let's just keep stepping" She and I were so relived to grasp hold of that railing when we got to our destination! Interestingly, that is just how I spoke to myself inside my head (and probably out loud on occasion) as I took on the fears that cropped up on my fitness journey. It was always about the very next step. The next step is really the only one that matters. I was laser focused on whatever that next step was. Looking too far off into the distance was usually overwhelming and involved things I couldn't do much to impact (other than worry- and as much as I've tried to impact situations by the amount of worry I aimed at them, as you're well aware, I'm sure -worry has no positive impact!)
The trick was the same every day. "What can I do today?" was the winning question. It was a series of small victories: Work out in the "man cave" at the gym alone for the first time- check. Figure out how to do a proper back squat- check. First time ordering just lean protein and veggies with no dessert or dinner roll while out with friends, surviving endless series of comments and questions about my "diet" - check. Regain a few pounds over the Christmas holiday and figure out how to get back on track- check. Just one step step at a time, no matter how small or tentative, is what got me where I wanted to go!
Though a fitness journey doesn't have a definite end with one particular spectacular moment as a reward, like Spectra Point on my hike, at least for me there were so many moments when the sense of accomplishment in achieving my goals filled me up to bursting! And guess what? I didn't die!
Summer vacation is here and whether you're heading to the beach, the lake, or on a long road trip- one thing is certain. You want to enjoy yourself and relax. I'm guessing that you also want to come home still fitting in your pants! Here are my top 5 tips on how to do just that:
1. Move, move, and then move some more! Reading a book by the pool for hours on end sounds like paradise to me, but before and after I read that book I make sure to get in plenty of exercise. Kayak on the lake, bike around town or even just take a nice long walk. If you've been strength training at home and find yourself without equipment or access to a gym on vacation, performing a body weight circuit every other day can be a great way to keep up your fitness routine. Push-ups, planks, dips, body weight squats, lunges and glute bridges can be surprisingly challenging.
2. Make some important decisions before you even leave home. Think about your vacation plans and the food that will be a part of those plans. What are you most looking forward to? What foods or drinks are more in the "take it or leave it" category? Choose ahead of time where you're going to indulge. For example, when I was cruising over spring break I was seriously looking forward to some chocolate treats for dessert (I'm having flashbacks of chocolate lava cake right now!!) and some pasta at dinner. I was totally fine skipping the pancakes and french toast at the breakfast buffet and the fruity drinks served poolside. If you're going to a family reunion maybe it's your grandmother's special dessert you can't wait to enjoy again. Perhaps you are looking forward to trying the regional cuisine that the area where you're visiting is known for. Great. Plan for it. Enjoy it! Pick a few meals or snacks to be times for indulging. And what about the rest of your meals? That brings me to tip number 3...
3. Eat lean protein and vegetables at as many of your meals as possible. Add in a few servings of smart, whole grain carbs and healthy fats each day as well.
4. Make eating out a no-brainer. How? Order lean protein and vegetables. Almost every restaurant, from fast-food to fine dining has lean protein and vegetables on the menu. Chicken, turkey, fish of all kinds, shellfish such as shrimp and scallops, and lean cuts of beef (such as sirloin): there are so many choices to pick from when it comes to lean protein. The same goes for vegetables; so many choices! One quick note, many salads that come with a protein actually contain precious little protein. Ask how many ounces are in the dish you're ordering and request a double sized portion of protein if it's not enough. I like to shoot for 4-5 oz of protein per meal.
5. How can you eat as outlined above and not feel deprived? The answer to that lies in changing our mindset. We can consciously choose to think of our choices as just that, choices we've made because we know that we'll be happier if we are eating in a way that supports our health and fitness goals. If we think of this way of eating as something that is being done to us, that we're forced to do, or as some kind of punishment for overindulging, we are much more likely to feel deprived instead of satisfied.
I'd like to suggest one specific mindset shift. When we're eating on our vacations instead of thinking to ourselves "but it's a special occasion I should treat myself," and then ordering whatever we feel is a treat, what if we chose to look at other things outside of the food itself as the "treat" during our special occasion? Dining in the company of beloved family and friends can be the treat. Dining in a beautiful location with a fabulous view can be the treat. Having someone else prepare, cook, serve and clean up the food can be the treat! And for all you fellow moms out there, having someone else prepare, cook, serve, and clean up after your entire crew is most definitely a treat! Does it make it any less special if I'm eating shrimp on a bed of spinach rather than a bowl of fettucine alfredo while I'm gazing at the ocean surrounded by those I love? I say it doesn't!
So there you have it ladies, 5 tips to help you enjoy your vacation and still keep on track with your health and fitness goals. Let me know how your fabulous vacations go! I'm leaving on a 2 1/2 week family reunion/visit old friends/college tour/ Western States extravaganza in less than a week and I can hardly wait! There's a slice of cake and some Mexican food with my name on it...
One of the keys to successful fat loss is planning ahead. When we make our food choices on the fly we tend to make choices that don't move us towards our goal. When we're in a rush, tired, stressed out, etc. making a healthy choice is much easier if we already have the healthy option prepared. Think of it this way- if we can make eating healthy, fat-loss-friendly food as quick and easy as pouring a bowl of cereal or grabbing something from the pre-made dinner section of the local grocery store then won't we be way more likely to choose the healthy, fat-loss friendly meal? I know I will be.
This is why every week I either grill a giant batch of chicken or whip up a big batch in the crock pot. Then all I have to do is add a veggie (which I also often prepare ahead of time as
well) and a little healthy fat (a 1/4 of an avocado or a Tablespoon of oil on my salad will do) and dinner is ready. If you feel the need to have a starch with dinner then you can also pre-make a pot of rice or quinoa for the week as well.
My recipe for Easy Crock Pot Chicken is super versatile. I eat it hot or cold, on top of brown rice, quinoa, or a sweet potato. I love it mixed with zoodles (spiral cut zucchini) and red pepper hummus. Of course it's fantastic in salads of all kinds! My current favorite way to eat it is on a bed of baby spinach with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and a huge handful of roughly chopped cilantro.Mmmm. Yumm! Give it a try a let me know what you think!
Easy Crock Pot Chicken
1lb Chicken Breasts
1 Cup Organic Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Spicy Brown Mustard
1 1/2 Tablespoon Garlic paste
Salt and Pepper to taste
Place the chicken in the crock pot. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken. Cook on low 6-7 hours or until chicken is cooked thoroughly. Shred chicken with two forks and stir until chicken and sauce are well combined.
How many times have you found yourself repeating this scenario: It's January 1st, or the first day the kids are back in school, or maybe just a random Sunday in April and you tell yourself "That's it! I'm starting tomorrow." And you find yourself "the perfect" meal plan, and promise yourself that you'll stick to it 100%, and you'll get to the gym or hit the pavement 5 days a week. Of course you're kicking that soda habit. No question about that. There will be no more snacking at night. And -water. You will of course start drinking a gallon of water a day- starting tomorrow. You remember your friend lost a lot of weight cutting out sugar so sugar's getting kicked to the curb too. And what about carbs? You're always reading online about how carbs make you fat. So no carbs.
You pack your gym bag before bed, ready to hit the ground running tomorrow. You were hoping to get to bed early because you know about the connection between fat-loss and a good night's sleep, but you'll have to start your early bedtime tomorrow because you got side tracked reading an article about fasted cardio and decided to google it to make sure you were doing it right when you started doing it in the morning.
Monday morning dawns and you blaze through your fasted cardio, feast on your egg whites and a few almonds, and grab your home-made lunch for work. No more dining out for you! You make it through the entire day without a single soda, refined carb, or pinch of sugar crossing your lips! After work you polish off your gallon of water, do a 30 minute ab class at the gym and get the whole family out for an after-dinner walk around the neighborhood. You want to hit 10,000 steps on your new step tracker so it's a looong walk. After you get the kids to bed you pack your lunch for tomorrow and drag yourself to bed, feeling tired, but victorious! That feeling of victory doesn't last for long though as you realize you have to get up and do it all again tomorrow.
By Wednesday you're so sore you can't get off the toilet, you're so hangry the entire family is steering clear of you and your caffeine-withdraw headache is pounding louder than your heart during your cardio session. Friday comes and you hit snooze on your alarm, planning on getting in some extra cardio at lunch instead. Lunch! You forgot to pack your lunch and there's no time to do it this morning. You're actually so late you find yourself shoving half-eaten Eggo waffles in your mouth as you hurry everyone out the door. Unfortunately in your rush you leave your gym bag sitting on the kitchen counter. No lunchtime workout for you. At lunch you figure "eh, I already messed up at breakfast, I might as well eat whatever I want now. I'll get organized over the weekend and restart fresh Monday." This, of course, is your cue to bring on every food and drink you had banned all week!
Maybe you do restart Monday and make it a few more days or even weeks before burning out. Or maybe you put off restarting for another time, when you can get things just right. Of course- there is no such time.
I realize that this is a little exaggerated, but you get the idea and recognize the pattern I'm talking about, right? Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? It doesn't work (or at least it rarely works.) We find ourselves losing and regaining the same few pounds over and over again. Besides, it's exhausting and discouraging. Why do we have to be so extreme in our approach to fat-loss?
What if we tried it a different way? Fair warning: this isn't going to sound as exciting as a "14-day fix" or "get summer abs now" approach. What is exciting though is that it works and most importantly, the results last. It's called the One Change Method. This is something I kind of just accidentally started doing myself a few years back. I recently read an article by Jill Coleman over at www.jillfit.com (She writes about all kinds of cool fitness mindset stuff.) Reading this article put a name to exactly what I'd been doing, namelessly (and successfully) for the last few years.
It is exactly what the name suggests. Instead of diving in head first and changing everything at once we make one change at a time. Once that change has become an automatic part of our lives, we make another change, and then another. We continue to make changes one at a time until we have a whole host of positive habits that are automatic parts of our lives. The effects of these habit changes can really add up!
My experience with the One Change Method went like this: I started out weight-training 5 days a week. Then I decided I would eat sweets only on the weekend and in moderate amounts.( buh-bye family sized bags of peanut M&M's) Next I upped my protein intake. Cutting out processed food came after that. Eventually I focused on increasing the amount of water I drank daily, logging my food, adding in sprint training, and a whole slew of other changes. I lost a lot of fat and gained a lot of muscle in all the right places, completely transforming my body. On top of the aesthetic changes I am just plain healthier and more energetic.
There are a few keys to making the One Change Method work:
1. Start by choosing changes that will give you the most bang for your buck. We all want to see progress, so we want to pick something that will help us see those results. I'll list some suggestions at the end of this article.
2. Be patient. Give yourself time to make one change be truly automatic before adding in the next one. The automaticity is what makes the changes stick. When you don't have to use a lot of mental energy or willpower to complete the task that's your clue to pick another change to make.
3. Realize that the time it takes to make a change automatic will vary from person to person and from one change to another.
Changes to Consider:
-Eat mostly 1 ingredient, whole foods (i.e. Chicken breast, Apple, sweet potato)
-Begin strength training 2-4 times a week.
-Ditch highly processed food.
-Use a calorie calculator such as caloriecalculator.net to set a starting point for your daily calories based on your goals. (Remember this is just a starting point, you can always adjust later if you're not losing pounds or inches or are losing too fast.) Use a tool such as My Fitness Pal or Lose It to log your food and keep track of your calories.
-Track your steps using a step tracker. Work your way up to 10,000 steps a day.
-Eat lean protein and non-starchy vegetables at every meal.
I know it can be scary to try a new approach to fat loss. Remember though, the old way will always be there. You can choose to go back to it whenever you want. I think you'll find that if you truly give the One Change Method a try and are consistent and patient your results will convince you that you don't need the old way. So, give it try and let me know how it goes! Comment below and tell me what change you want to implement first. If you need assistance choosing, I'm happy to help!
....and it's about fish. Is that weird? This isn't just any ol' fish though; this is my very favorite, super delicious, even-if-you-don't-love-fish-you'll-love-this-fish, fish. This recipe comes from my training buddy Yo:
Yo's Basil & Citrus Salmon
2 T lemon juice
1 clove of garlic
1 T Basil
1 t lemon pepper
1/2 t salt
1 lb Salmon
Preheat oven to 350*. Spray a baking sheet with spray oil. Place Salmon on the baking sheet. Stir the remaining ingredients together and spread on top of salmon. Bake for 30 minutes or until salmon flakes with a fork.
Each 4 oz serving has approximately 171 calories, 29g Protein. 1g Carbs. 5g fat
Serve it over salad, brown rice, or broccoli slaw (that's my fav way to eat it! YUM! It gives it a great texture. I'll have to share my super simple broccoli slaw recipe soon!) Besides the yum factor this recipe has healthy fats which, among other things, help in absorption of important vitamins and aid in proper brain functioning. The salmon is also packed with protein which will help build muscle and keep us feeling full.
Nutrition is such a huge part of being fit, but for me it's important that my food be not just healthy, but delicious. It took me some time to learn to like nutritious food. For many years I lived on a steady diet of gooey comfort food and sugary cereal (my love for the latter still runs deep and I indulge a few times a year!) Over time I found ways to prepare food that would supply me with the nutrients I needed to be fit and the flavor I needed to just enjoy life. I have even learned to like vegetables! (much to my mother's shock!)
What I'm saying is that eating to support a fit body and enjoying our lives doesn't have to be an either or situation. If you don't think you could look forward to healthy food each day, or that you could possibly change the way you eat and still enjoy life I'm here to plant the seed in your mind that you can. If I can do it anyone can! Seriously. Here's how I did it:
1. I made up my mind to do it.
2. I tried things multiple times. (Our palates really can change)
3. I paired things I was leery of with things I knew I liked.
4. I thought about what ways I generally like food prepared and then prepared new-to-me foods in that way. For me it's grilled. To me, everything tastes better grilled, so I started grilling lots of different veggies. That's how I learned to enjoy zucchini,peppers, and yellow squash.
5. When trying to do a direct swap ( like subbing almond milk for regular milk) I tried to think of the new item as a totally different food. I expected it to taste different. This way I wasn't disappointed and could appreciate the food for what it was rather than be disappointed in what it wasn't.
6. I did it a little at a time. Changing our habits is not a quick thing.
So what's your biggest barrier to eating healthy? What has helped you to clean up your eating? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!
I'm a NASM certified personal trainer who is passionate about helping women transform their bodies through strength training and sustainable nutritional habit changes.