Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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Start Making Healthy Changes Now

Woman Tying Measuring Tape Around Her WaistI am not an advocate for “quick fixes” like weight loss supplements, juice cleanses and the like. While quick fixes may result in fast weight loss, these results are only temporary and chances are, your depressed metabolism will cause you to rapidly gain the weight back…and then some. Seven-day or 21-day weight loss plans typically instruct you to drastically cut caloric intake and often severely limit the variation of food in your diet. Once these week-long or month-long fast diets are over with, most people resume their previous eating habits and unfortunately circle right back to square one with their weight loss efforts.

What’s unfortunate is these quick diet plans do not teach you how to eat for the long-run. You can’t drink a “body by Vi” shake forever; eventually you’re going to have to learn how to make real food for your meals. Research has shown that a multitude of different diets such as low-calorie/low-fat, high-fat/low-carb, Mediterranean diet, vegetarian diet, paleo dietetc., can all help individuals lose weight. Sometimes, losing weight is not the problem; it’s keeping the weight off. This fact stresses the importance of lifelong habits that one must take on, not quick diet fixes, in order to maintain their weight loss efforts. Here are some “quick” healthy changes that you can make today and turn into lifelong habits.

1. Start your day with protein. Breakfast is the most commonly missed meals reported by Americans of all ages. And when we think of breakfast, we typically think of a large bowl of sugary-sweetened cereal and a tall glass of orange juice. Breakfast meals high in these simple sugars can lead to a quick drop in energy come 9:00 a.m. Try to find ways to incorporate more protein with your breakfast meal. Add nuts into oatmeal, make a veggie omelet or pair fruit with high-protein Greek yogurt.

imgres2. Switch to water. Water is essential to one’s health and its benefits far surpass the simple purpose of hydration. Drinking more water is a habit I have been working on for quite some time now and it’s really sticking. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I previously was consuming about 4 diet sodas per day. To wean myself off of the diet soda, I would tell myself for every soda I consumed, I would have to drink a bottle of water. Now I keep a water bottle with me at all times so there are no excuses for not drinking enough water.

3. Stop serving multiple starches with meals. This is an easy fix that will help you naturally control your carbohydrate intake with your meals and make them more well-rounded. Our typical American western diet revolves around meat, potatoes, bread or some other starch like noodles and rice or corn and peas with most of our meals. Begin your meals by choosing a healthy lean protein, add one starch (preferably a healthy starchy vegetable like sweet potatoes or butternut squash) and fill the rest of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and fruit, if preferred.

4. Bring your own snacks to work. It seems almost every week, someone brings in a new “Pinterest-inspired” sweet treat to share with everyone at work. Sure, these decadent treats look great, but consuming these items regularly as snack choices can lead one to a spike in blood sugar followed by a drop in energy. Plan ahead and make sure you always have healthy, nutrient-dense snacks packed with you for your workday. If you feel bad about turning down your co-worker’s cheesecake bites, you can politely decline by saying you had already packed an apple with almond butter for your snack today. Or a simple, “No thanks, but thanks for asking,” always does the trick too!

exercise_02F026015. Exercise. Daily physical activity is one of the most important keys for a healthy metabolism and weight management. It’s time to put the “excuse book” away and start moving today.


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Let’s Get Fit

gymsIt’s that time of year again. Group fitness classes are packed, parking spots are limited and time limits on cardio equipment are more heavily enforced. It’s the New Year and everyone is hitting the gym. The New Year’s gym trend occurs all over. When I was teaching in college, students would line up outside the fitness studio at least 30 minutes before class began to ensure they would get a spot. Instructors loved having the large class participation and, quite honestly, it was a huge adrenaline rush. However, after spring break had come and gone, class sizes usually dropped down to less than 50% of the previous quarter’s numbers.

First and foremost, I commend anyone who is focusing on making their life healthier by becoming more physically active. But a healthy, long life is not made by only going to the gym three months out of the year. If you are embarking on a new fitness journey, here are some key tips to remember:

Do NOT compare yourself to others. Even to this day, I still catch myself doing this from time to time at Crossfit. I’ll watch fellow crossfitters, whom I see as equal athletes to myself, deadlift more, row faster and perform more burpees than me. Something I tell my fitness participants in spinning class is “Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20” and these words could not be any truer in my situation. Comparing oneself to others is one of the biggest fitness/health mistakes one can make as it often overshadows our own accomplishments and feats. When I started Crossfit 6 months ago, I needed a band in order to do a pull-up. Today, I can knock out 5 unassisted, strict pull-ups and I often overlook these strength gains I have made by too frequently comparing myself to others. When you’re in a class or working out on your own, don’t compete against the person exercising next to you. If you’re going to compete against someone, compete against yourself. See if you can push a little harder or match your previous workout’s accomplishments and remember the person working out today is much healthier than the person who was sitting on the couch yesterday.20110952-crossfit-fitness-trx-training-exercises-at-gym-woman-and-man-side-push-up-workout

It’s okay NOT to do what everyone else is doing in class. In any fitness class, you are going to have a wide variety of people with different fitness and experience levels. A great fitness instructor will demonstrate several modifications for an exercise so that everyone can equally participate in class. Stick with the variation that comfortably challenges you. Typically there are at least three levels of modifications for most exercises, and your instructor should show all varieties and perform the middle modification for the majority of the class. If you feel that there were not enough modifications given, talk to your instructor during one of the drink breaks or after class. Their job is not to “get paid to work out” rather they should be providing guidance, knowledge and motivation to group fitness participants.

Bring water. Water is essential when someone is exercising. A good rule of thumb is to take a drink of water every 10-15 minutes (or even more often when exercising intensely) when working out. Remember to continue to drink water after your workouts since a large amount of fluid is lost through perspiration. I took my first spinning class over 7 years ago. I specifically remember thinking, “This can’t be that hard, I ride my bike outside all the time. Why would I need a water bottle?” Four minutes into class, I was seen racing to the vending machines to purchase a water bottle.

Wipe down equipment before and after you use it. You are never guaranteed that the person before you wiped down the piece of equipment after they had used it. This is why I always wipe down my weight or cardio machine before I begin my exercise. With cold and flu season in full swing, the gym is a breeding ground for sickness with so many people together in an enclosed setting.

Photo Courtesy: http://www.123rf.com/


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Don’t Slack Over the Holidays

It’s important this holiday season to remain on your same exercise schedule between enjoying delicious treats.Woman Stretching

Do NOT skip your workouts. The stress of the holidays can make you feel like you’re being stretched in all directions, but try not to sacrifice your workouts. The benefits of exercise go far beyond physical changes. Exercise can help elate one’s mood and help you better handle stress and deadlines.

Regularly perform body-weight exercises at home. You don’t need a gym membership to stay fit. All you need is proper form and dedication. Try to perform 3 sets of 20 squats, 20 lunges, 15 push-ups and 1:00 minute plank holds at least 4-5 days/week. You can perform the sets consecutively, or perform one set during each commercial break of your television program.

Find the stairs and always use them. Whether you’re at work or power shopping at the mall, know where your stairs are and take advantage of a free leg workout. What I love about taking stairs is that they provide both a cardiovascular benefit and strengthen the quads, glutes and hamstrings muscles.

Squat challenge. You’ve seen them on Facebook and maybe have even pinned them on pinterest, but have you actually started any of the fitness challenges? Begin with performing 30 squats and try to add 2-3 squats each day. Keep good form by keeping your back straight, chest lifted, weight in your heels and knees in line with your toes.

Did somebody say dance party? Take advantage of the kids’ gaming system. Dance-based video games have completely changed the once sedentary nature of gaming. Dancing can burn lots of calories and what’s best about it is you can do this in the comfort of your own home, without an audience.

 Invest in some home equipment. Some of my favorite home equipment pieces are my BOSU ball, yoga mat and pull-up bar. With the pull-up bar, I can work on strict upper body strength. My BOSU ball provides opportunities for quick, intense cardio and core stabilization exercises. Having a yoga mat at home helps remind me the importance of daily stretching and mobilizing.

Park farther away. We’ve heard this recommendation time and time again, but do you actually do it? Whether you’re out shopping, going to church or an appointment, try to park further back in the parking lot to help increase the amount of steps you take each day.


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Figge’s Favorite Things (Part Two)

Happy Holidays and welcome to the second part of  Figge’s Favorite Things. Here is the second half of my personal list of favorite things to keep you happy and healthy this season.

7. Amy Dixon-home fitness workouts Amy Dixon has always been one of my favorite fitness experts. I have had the pleasure of meeting her at several fitness conferences and learn more from her with each new session that I go to. Whether you’re an avid athlete or beginner to exercise, Amy and her team demonstrates a variety of levels and modifications to guarantee you will have a safe and effective workout. You can find her DVDs on her website  or at select Costco stores.crockpot

8. Crockpot I never thought I needed a crockpot until we received one as a wedding gift. This kitchen must-have saves valuable time for making healthy and delicious meals.

9. www.steepandcheap.com This is a great website for your outdoor adventure needs. Don’t wait too long on the deals, because they are only available for a limited amount of time.

10. DIY projects Last year I made my very first appearance in the DIY world. My first project I selected was from Michaels and was a Family Name banner.To my surprise, it was quite rewarding and made awesome gifts. DIY projects can save you a lot of money in gift-giving and provides opportunities to test your creative skills.photo 3

11. CrossFit Instinct. My crossfit journey began a little over four months ago. A co-worker had asked me if I would join her in one of the free Saturday morning classes they offer and I have been hooked ever since. Excellence shines in the coaching staff and programming at Crossfit Instinct. In just a few short months, I have accomplished fitness goals that I never thought imaginable such as unassisted pull-ups and dead-lifting over 150 lbs. Check out a free on-ramp class for yourself and see what your body is capable of doing!65

12. Mindless Eating by Dr. Brian Wansink. In this book, Dr. Brian Wansink addresses the environmental cues that cause us to overeat or have bad mindless eating habits. By making readers more aware of their surroundings, we can turn our bad mindless habits into good, healthy ones.

13.Dr. Dan’s Cortibalm: The winter months  are always difficult on my lips. Between walking the dog, snowboarding and other fun outdoor activities, my lips are always chapped, cracked and can even bleed sometimes. Dr. Dan’s Cortibalm lip ointment has been a lifesaver. Typically lip balms make my lips peel even more, but this special formula leaves them soft, smooth and protects against the harsh weather.

14. Puppies- Because who doesn’t love puppies?photo 1

          In case you missed it -Figge’s Favorite Things (Part One) .


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Help I’ve Hit A Plateau!

dont give upAhh, the dreaded P-word. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle or increase your fitness level, almost everyone has hit a plateau sometime or another. In fact, I’ve hit several plateaus during the last couple years. The most important thing to remember when trying to overcome a plateau is change. Your body can plateau for several reasons and this often requires a change in either your diet or fitness routine. In this blog, I share my own struggles with plateaus and provide insight on how myself and many patients have overcome challenges, both fitness and diet-related.

Are you eating too few calories? Or over-exercising?

Sometimes we can become over restrictive with our caloric intake. Yes, consuming fewer calories than those that are burned off can help you lose weight, but there is a point when consuming too few calories begins to sabotage your metabolism. Not eating enough nutrients can stress the body and cause it go into starvation/fat-storing mode. When your metabolism is compromised like this, it is very hard to lose weight and actually makes it fertile ground for gaining weight. Over-exercising can also cause this severe caloric deficit. Most research suggests that consuming less than 1200 calories per day can lead to alterations in metabolism and possible nutrient deficiencies.

Be honest with yourself.

With the stress of finishing grad school and planning a wedding, I had gained a few unwanted pounds. I couldn’t figure out where the extra weight was food-diarycoming from since I hadn’t really changed my diet…or so I thought. It took having a real honest look into my eating habits to realize I had been eating out more often and was enjoying chocolate a bit too frequently at the end of the day as a stress-reliever. Restaurant-prepared menu items and desserts/sweets are two common high-calorie culprits in our diets. A good way to identify trouble zones in your eating habits is to keep a food diary for one week. You will then be able to analyze what areas you need improvements in. (ex: eating out every day for lunch, too big of portions of late-night snacks, frequent consumption of free food at work).

Do you need a snack?

Many patients have told me that they do not snack between meals because they are trying to save calories. If you’re going too long between meals (> 6 hours) or having physical hunger pains 2 hours after having a meal, then you need to plan accordingly and prepare a healthy, protein-rich snack. Remember, those hunger pains are your body’s metabolism telling you to refuel. Try to stick with snacks that have some staying power. Greek yogurt, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs are all protein-packed snacks that can satisfy hunger and increase your energy level during that afternoon slump!

Does your workout need a makeover?

I can happily say that in my first year of marriage, I stayed the same weight. What helped me accomplish this was clean eating and regular exercise. During that year, I found that increasing my strength-training frequency and backing a bit off of the cardio helped me stay happy and healthy. I’ll admit, I like to work hard at the gym and lift heavy weights, but after a year of serious strength-training, my body fat % had only marginally changed and I didn’t see the definition I was hoping for. Then I took a huge leap. I joined my local Crossfit gym. In just a few short months, Crossfit has changed me in so many ways. My arms are more defined, my legs are stronger, I can do several unassisted pull-ups in a row and more! The transformation that I am most happy with is the fact that my back is no longer hurting. Crossfit has reminded me of the importance of daily stretching and taking care of my muscles and joints.

My husband and I at Crossfit.

My husband and I at Crossfit.

Am I recommending that you should start doing Crossfit? No, it’s not for everyone, but what I do encourage people to do is find a new way to constantly challenge themselves. This could be signing up for your first 5K or walking into your very first Zumba class. Find activities that you enjoy and recruit a buddy! Having a buddy-system can help you both hold each other accountable with your fitness and health goals. Wherever your fitness journey takes you make sure it is safe, fun and filled with new challenges!

 


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Pu-Pu-Push it Real Good!

If you had only 20 minutes to workout, what would be the best exercises to do to fill that time frame? Is it a crunch? How about the treadmill? Or does it possibly include that funny leg machine (a machine I particularly do not care for, but that can be explained in another blog post)? While the best workouts challenge all the major muscles of the body, there are a few exercises that rise triumphantly to the short-time-to-workout challenge. They include the Push-Up, the Plank and the Squat. Unfortunately, many of us developed an adverse relationship to these exercises from the days we took elementary PE. Learning the benefits, variations and different levels of application of these exercises will hopefully reignite your passion for these exercises.

Anatomy of a push-up

Proper Push-Up Techniques

Proper Push-Up Techniques

The push-up is a phenomenal exercise. It challenges the core, chest, triceps and even the front part of the shoulder. There are hundreds of variations and modifications to this exercise making it effective for exercisers of all fitness levels. Taking your knees to the ground shortens the lever length, which can make this exercise easier. To make it harder, try having your feet suspended in TRX bands. Don’t have the bands? No problem. You can simply elevate your feet using any raised platform or add additional movements with the exercise. Try a combination of push-up + jump knee tuck or push-up + jumping jack feet. Remember to breathe throughout the exercise; inhale on the way down, exhale as you push-up.

Modification Tip: If doing push-ups on your toes is too hard, but doing them on your knees is not hard enough, try this tip: begin in the up-plank phase on your toes. Lower your body into the push-up position. Then drop your knees to the floor to assist with the pushing up phase. Our muscles can take on a greater load during the eccentric movements of exercise (the going down part of the push-up) so this is a great way to effectively challenge your upper body muscles. Here is a great list of additional push-up exercises to try.

Drop it like a squat

Even as little tots, our bodies naturally follow proper form for a squat. As we get older, we tend to bend over to pick up things, versus squatting down. Remember to keep your chest elevated and your back flat when performing a squat. A simple technique to help you do this is by looking up rather than looking straight ahead. Maintain a straight back as you push your hips backwards and bend into the squat. Sometimes our anatomies get in the way of performing a good squat. Having your heels slightly elevated can help your body achieve the perfect squat. (Ladies, this is why squatting in heels is easier!)

baby-squat

Squat Tips

If you haven’t performed a squat in a long while, begin with your own body weight to help you establish good form. Our legs contain the largest muscles in our bodies. This is why it is important not to skip leg day because a large portion of our metabolically active tissue is found in our leg muscles. Leg muscles need to be challenged—and adding weight will not make your legs big. What you will notice is that they become more firm and sculpted. Here is a great leg workout created by Amy Dixon. I have personally taken many of her workout sessions at fitness conferences and love every single one of them!

Squats also come in myriad variations. You can narrow your stance (similar to chair pose in yoga) or turn your feet outward and sit straight down for a plié squat (dancer’s squat). Performing the squats with more weight or more quickly or adding a jump can all increase intensity. Here are some more squat ideas to try.

“Walk the plank!”

The plank is an exceptional exercise because it targets the core, as well as the upper and lower body. It doesn’t require a gym membership to perform, and the many variations of the plank will never leave you feeling bored with this exercise. The plank can be performed on your toes or knees. You can also move up and down with your upper body for another challenge (plank push-up).

To target the obliques, try a side plank variation. In the side plank position you can dip your hips down and up, curl your top arm down underneath you and back up or raise your top leg for added challenges. The question is, are you ready to challenge yourself?

This is why we plank.

This is why we plank.

Plank walkup to pushup

Plank walkup to pushup

 


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5 Common Mistakes to Avoid at the Gym

Muscle-tone1. The Treadmill Death Grip

Unfortunately, this is one mistake that I used to commit many years ago. Walking on an incline on the treadmill is a phenomenal way to boost cardio-respiratory fitness and tone the legs. However, this cardio-toning exercise is commonly abused at the gym. Often you will see individuals walking on the highest possible incline, gripping onto the handles for dear life. When you hold onto the handlebars you A) lose the benefit of core stabilization (meaning you no longer are working your mid-section as effectively), B) are not working your legs as hard and C) are not burning as many calories as the machine indicates. Handles are on treadmills as a means of providing balance for some individuals who require additional assistance. If you don’t feel comfortable not holding on to the handles, it may mean that your pace is too fast. So, the next time you want to walk on an incline, slow down your speed so you can confidently walk without needing assistance from the handles. Your heart, core and glutes will thank you.

2. Sit-ups with Foot Support

Have you ever hooked your feet under an apparatus to do your sit-ups?  Or perhaps you put your feet up against the wall while doing crunches on a ball? While having your feet stabilized may provide assistance, it is a less effective way to do this abdominal exercise. This is one very common mistake that I see people make at the gym (so don’t feel bad if you’ve done it because I’ve done it, too!). When your feet are supported while doing a crunch, your hip flexors are actually doing more of the work rather than your abdominal muscles. This is why you may feel more stable or you may even be able to do more repetitions…because you have additional muscles assisting with the movement. Remember, there are many other exercises that you can perform to work your abdominal muscles and core. Next time, try the plank and side plank exercises. These two exercises are highly effective and come with many modifications to make them easier or harder for individuals of all fitness levels.

3a. Lifting the Wrong Amount of Weight, Part 1

Lifting heavy weights may look cool, but you will not gain anyone’s respect unless you can perform the exercise with proper form. Our bodies are very smart machines and they will always try to find a way to make exercise easier. For example, if someone is using too heavy of dumbbells for bicep curls, you may see them A) decrease their range of motion (making the exercise less effective), B) Use their shoulders and back muscles by shrugging with the movement (adding assistance from other muscle groups) or C) recruit the power of momentum by swinging their hips and leaning back.

A lesson I learned in Exercise Physiology 101: you are only as strong as your weakest angle.  If you are unable to perform an exercise through the full range of motion, it may be a good idea to select some lighter weights.

3b. Lifting the Wrong Amount of Weight, Part 2

extreme_muscle_man1

Unless you have massive quantities of added testosterone, I promise strength training won’t make you look like this.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may be using weights that are too light. Ladies, we, unfortunately, are the most common culprits of this mistake. Let me calm your fears: pumping iron will not turn us into bulging green giants. In order to become bigger and bulkier, the hormone testosterone is needed in large amounts. Due to genetics, women do not produce high amounts of this hormone. Women experience hyperplasia (increase in number of muscle fibers) not hypertrophy (increase in muscle fiber size) when doing resistance training. So, ladies, lifting heavier weights will help improve muscle tone since it is very hard to get bigger muscles without the aid of testosterone. One of my favorite quotes to help guide you in choosing weights is, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”.

**Individuals with conditions such as hypertension or advanced age are not recommended to lift heavy weights. Always consult with your physician before starting an exercise program.

Don't be this guy.

Don’t be this guy.

4. The Squat Rack = Squats

This is one of the unspoken golden rules at a gym: squat racks are for squats—not bicep curls, not shrugs, not presses. Doing bicep curls at the squat rack is a real quick way to create a lot of enemies at the gym. Squats are absolutely one of my most favorite exercises to do at the gym. Not only does the squat help sculpt your rear end, it is also a great core exercise. Before adding heavier weights, practice good form with just your own body weight (chest lifted, back straight, hips back, knees in line with toes).

5. Cardio, Cardio, Cardio and (did I mention) Cardio?

Cardio or aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, cycling, using the elliptical, Stairmaster® or taking an aerobic-fitness class are all excellent methods of burning calories and improving cardiovascular fitness. Many people turn to this form of exercise for weight loss, but too much cardio may not be as beneficial as you think. When weight loss occurs through cardio alone, your body loses both fat mass and lean muscle mass. Your lean muscle mass is your metabolically active tissue; so, if you begin to lose this tissue, your metabolism actually decreases. To preserve your muscle tissue, the ACSM recommends strength-training at least two days per week. Be sure to include exercises for all the major muscles of the body including the legs, stomach, chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps.

Just like eating right, exercise is an important component to leading a healthy life. Choose the activities you enjoy and you won’t have a problem fitting them into your daily routine.

If you start now, you’ll start seeing results one day earlier than if you wait until tomorrow. Start today.

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