Archive for January, 2011

do what works for you

There are countless plans for creating and maintaining a healthy diet.

  • Some people count calories.  Some don’t.
  • Some people simply restrict themselves to healthy foods without worrying about quantity.
  • Some people include a cheat day.  Some people don’t.
  • Some people learn to eat mindfully.

Which one works best?

That depends on what you’re looking for and how you are able and/or willing to implement it.

How do I choose a plan that will help me succeed?

First, decide what you want. Are you looking to lose weight? Gain weight? Get healthy? (What does “healthy” mean to you?) Eliminate chemicals? Eat local?

Then look at the options and decide which will probably work best for your goals and your personality.

Counting calories

Counting calories is good if you are very structured (or need to be very structured) with your day and/or eating. It is excellent for teaching correct portion sizes, of which most of us have a very skewed view. Even if you don’t do this for more than a week, it is something that I recommend fat-loss folks to try out, just to see what you learn.

You will also need access to nutrition information, which means that if you eat out often, you’ll need to limit yourself to establishments with nutrition information available.

However, if you decide to count calories because you want to lose weight and fill up your daily intake with sweets, you will still probably lose weight, but you will be malnourished and hungry.

Restricting foods

Restricting foods is a good choice if you are generally happy with your eating habits but struggle with junk food, or if you’re looking to eliminate one food/group of foods from your diet (meat, dairy, sugar, white flour, etc.). If you are wanting to munch, this plan leaves you with many options, but none of them are void of nutrition. It is less rigid than counting calories, and while it will not teach you about portion control, it is effective if you just want to keep yourself off the junk.

If you decide to restrict yourself to healthy foods because you want to lose weight, but you eat large quantities of fruits and nuts, you will not likely lose weight and might gain some, depending on the quantity. (Fruits and nuts are both healthy and should both be part of your daily diet, but too much isn’t good.) That’s why this is a better choice if you already have portion sizes under control.

Cheat days

Either of those plans can come with a cheat day. If you are eating, for example, 1800 calories per day, you could decide to eat 2200 on your cheat day. Or you could choose not to count calories at all on your cheat day. If you are restricting foods, you could let all foods be available on your cheat day.

While cheat days work for many people, I have some issue with them.

  1. They imply a hierarchy of good and bad. When you delineate foods like that, then you engage emotions like guilt and shame in your eating, which is not good.
  2. Depending on how your brain works, you might feel deprived all week, hating how you’re eating, waiting for your cheat day. This is not sustainable.
  3. If you are “good” all week and eat or drink 15,000 calories on your cheat day, you’ve more than outweighed your diligence the other six days.

Mindful eating

This one is difficult for many people because it requires retraining just about every aspect of your relationship with food.

A mindful eater will eat what they want, when they want it, but only as much as they need to be sated. Thus, half a cookie might satisfy a craving. Lunch might be at 11:00 one day and 2:00 the next. A day following a lot of exercise might have 300 more calories than the day of or after a sedentary day.

Mindful eaters don’t binge and will eat a well-balanced diet because that’s what our bodies want. It takes time to train your mind and body to eat this way.


Overall, if you train yourself to eat well (whether it’s “mindful” or not), you will notice that your body feels better. And when you eat a lot of other foods, you don’t feel good. That in itself becomes motivation to eat well, as opposed to the abstract label of “being good.” But if you’ve eaten the Standard American Diet for years (decades?) you are used to your body feeling sluggish and you just assume that’s how it is. Or you attribute it to aging. It not aging – it’s your diet.

What works for you?

other people’s handiwork

There are several people in my life right now who are going through tumultuous times. I am grateful that, at least for the moment, I am not among them. Is your life stable?

Say Thank You from How to Have Great Self Confidence: A short, easy read on some benefits of living with gratitude.

Why Does My Nose Run When I Go Running? from The post answers the question…

Catalog Choice Review – How to Stop Junk Mail from Coming to Your House from Money Crashers: You bought something once and now you’re on the list for six catalogs. Save yourself time and hassle, save some trees, and get off the mailing lists.

Meatless Meals (I Wish) My Mother Made

Today’s recipe is from Joy of Cooking All About Vegetarian Cooking. The Big Man and I had it for dinner this past week. I loved it; he thought it was OK. We agreed that we were surprised at how filling it was. Leftovers have been good, too 🙂

As always, we used dry beans instead of canned. In this recipe, the difference is especially noticeable, as the chickpeas are predominant. Garlic minced — as opposed to finely chopped — worked. Also, instead of sliced blanched almonds, I took the raw almonds that we had and tossed them in the food processor to grind them into smaller pieces, and that worked out fine. Can’t tell when they’re golden, but that’s OK. And I didn’t chop the raisins.

Couscous with Chickpeas

Heat in a large skillet over medium heat:

3 tablespoons olive oil


1 cup sliced blanched almonds

Cook, stirring, just until lightly golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add:

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute.

Stir in:

1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce

Cook until heated through, about 1 minute more. Stir in:

2½ cups vegetable stock or water

2 cups cooked chickpeas (about 2/3 cup dried), rinsed and drained if canned

1 cup chopped raisins

Bring to a boil and stir in:

1¼ cups quick-cooking couscous

Cover, remove from the heat, and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork. Season with:

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Garnish with:

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

the problem with shoes

As you might know by now, I am a big fan of being barefoot. Get home from being out? Kick off the shoes.

When I learned about Vibram Five Fingers and heard they were like being barefoot, I went and checked them out and eventually bought a pair … then another … and then Tuesday this week, one more. (For what it’s worth: the first pair was to try them out and became my regular use pair; the second pair was purchased just for exercise so that I could get away with washing them less frequently; the third pair covers my entire foot and is generally nicer-looking so I can wear them when it’s cold out and to events that are a little dressier.) I love them.

So when I came upon this article in New York Magazine about the problems with shoes, I was intrigued.

The gist: “Shoes hurt your feet. They change how you walk. In fact, your feet—your poor, tender, abused, ignored, maligned, misunderstood feet—are getting trounced in a war that’s been raging for roughly a thousand years: the battle of shoes versus feet.”

The sole of the foot has over 200,000 nerve endings. Their job is to tell you what you’re standing on, when you’re moving, how hard you’re landing, and what you’re landing on. If you have shoes on, you have to hit the ground harder in order for the signal to be relayed. Consequently, the thicker the padding in your shoes the higher impact on your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back. We generally think that shoes with lots of padding would be great for bad joints, but it’s actually worse. Also, they can create bad joints over time because of all of the impact.

Also, shoes are designed with toes pointing up. (Put a shoe with a covered toe on a flat surface and check out the toe end of the shoe.) Because shoes basically destroy our feet’s natural way of moving, they are made with the toes up to help push us into the next step — guidance that we would not need if we were not wearing shoes in the first place.

Shoes that roll are even worse, as they prevent the foot from moving in any direction except forwards.

The fourth page of the article has profile pictures and descriptions of four types of shoes that are designed to simulate barefoot-ed-ness. (Some do, some don’t.) The fifth page has diagrams and descriptions of the difference between a stride in conventional shoes versus a stride barefoot.

If any of this intrigues you at all (and if you’re still reading, I suspect that it does), I encourage you to click through and read the whole article. It’s a bit long, but it’s interesting.

This also ties in with a piece in the book I’m reading: all of those nerve endings in the sole of the foot send a variety of signals to the brain about the surface you’re standing/walking on, including whether it’s flat or bumpy, hard or soft, etc. Shoes decrease these signals, and over time, you can’t tell as well what you’re standing on and start to lose your balance. Less shoe use would improve age-related balance issues — the signals would stay strong.

If you go from shoes to minimalist or no shoes, there is a period of adjustment. You are using muscles that you haven’t been using so much. Your feet might get tired. Your calves might become unhappy. Over time, this will dissipate.

After wearing my VFFs for a month or so, I put on my running sneakers and felt like I was in high heels. Very strange, but it explains a lot.

I wore mine for several months before attempting to run in them, but now I do almost all of my running in them. “Almost all” because I don’t have socks (yet!) and it’s been too cold to wear them when I’m running outside.

Anyone else use Vibram Five Fingers or other barefoot-y shoes? Anyone considering it? Why or why not?

Nichol on … Nichol

Today’s post is written by Nichol. She chimes in here on Wednesdays to talk about her changes in progress.

Below is the first guest blog post I wrote for It was in October, pre-5K and only 3 months into my lifestyle change. I wanted to repost this, with a little additional information if you are new to reading my portion of Heat’s blog.

List of what has happened since then:

  • Completed the 5K
  • Completed a second 5K (well, it was a less than 5K walk around the zoo, but I still count it. Maybe in a year or so, I won’t.)
  • Lost 14 more lbs, bringing the total weight loss to 44.4 lbs total
  • Lost my distinction as person with equal measurements on both sides of my body
  • Stopped running…started running again…stopped running again…trying to start again
  • Added mushrooms and tofu to the list of food I previously thought disgusting/poisionous/fungi but will now happily consume
  • Almost had to go to confession when I ate some nuggets from Chick-fil-A. And I don’t go to church, so you know that was some heavy guilt.
  • Considered buying an elliptical (still being considered)
  • Got on a budget (yuck)
  • And finally … working on my plan to quit smoking by the end of 2011.

That’s pretty much it. So enjoy this first post I ever wrote. Here, let me start it for you:

Once upon a time:

I’ve never been much for healthy food… or exercise… or water. I know how bad fast food is. I know how bad being physically stagnant is. The problem was it feels so good to lay on the couch and it feels so good to eat Chicken McNuggets and fries, washed down with an extra large diet coke.

I needed to change things. I was changing everything else about my life, why wasn’t I willing to change my health? I used to think that all the time. I’m going to change and eat better and exercise, but, wait! I’ll start Sunday. I’ll start after the holidays. I don’t have time to cook or measure my food or count my calories or exercise or shop for good food, so it’s pointless. I made some half‐hearted gestures starting around January, which equaled to going to boot camp, Zumba, and training with Heather a few times and then blowing it off later.

In July I weighed ‐‐‐. I’m still not comfortable saying my starting weight. Maybe that will go away with time, maybe not, but back to my story. One night, I ate a ridiculous amount of food. I was absolutely disgusted with myself. I knew that right then and there, I was done. The bottom‐line for me it this: I don’t want to die because I don’t want to stop eating and get off the couch.

So I am changing. I gave up fast food. I gave up soda. I gave up mayo (!). I cook, count calories, and measure my food. I typically only drink water, with two cups of coffee in the morning (totally necessary) and an occasional Starbucks. Now my Starbucks is a tall with soy milk and no whipped cream. I eat vegetables, a lot of vegetables. I eat a lot of fruit and lean meats. I very rarely eat red meats, pasta, or bread. I exercise. I exercised so much one week, that Heather told me I should take a day off!

When I started, I couldn’t jog more than 40 seconds at a time. As of this week, I can jog 5 minutes in a row, WITHOUT STOPPING! I grinned the whole time I was running because of that. People probably thought I was insane. I can power walk 3.5 miles, WITHOUT STOPPING. That may be because I get fro‐yo at the end of the walk, but whatever. I’m doing a 5K at the end of this month, running/walking proudly with the Second Chance FitCenter team (you should join us). I have lost 30 pounds,and almost two pant sizes. It’s a slow process, but I can see the changes in my body.

Butt firmer! Arm muscles! Calf muscles! Less back fat! It is a hard road and I do get discouraged, but I keep reminding myself that I can do it.

Change IS possible. I’m proof.

book trade-in on

I learned quite by accident that takes trade-ins on certain books, DVDs and video games for amazon credit. I’ve been looking to get rid of more and more of my stuff (including my beloved book collection). I’ve also been wanting a pair of Vibram Five Fingers KSO Treks which, like nearly everything, is available on amazon.

I don’t know the criteria they use to determine which items they’ll accept or how much money they’ll give you for them. I just took my laptop into the room with all the books and entered titles one at a time to see if they would accept them.

Here’s a screen shot — with points of note circled — of a book I read in grad school that amazon took:

Here are those circled parts close up:

When all was said and done, I had only a dozen books (out of 60 or so) that I could get credit for. I entered all of them in, printed two shipping labels (I didn’t have a box big enough to fit all of them into) and dropped them off at the UPS store. There are options for shipping through UPS, FedEx, and USPS.

A few days later, I received e-mail confirmation that they had been received. About a week later, I received an e-mail confirming that I got credit for them and that the credit — almost $65 — was in my account. And that one of the books I had sent was the wrong edition and they’d be mailing it back to me. Oops. Total turnaround time from when I entered the books into amazon’s system to when I received credit: about 10 days.

Sure, I could probably make a few more bucks if I sold them through amazon — if someone was interested in buying them — but this was very easy, shipping was free and all to the same place, and it worked well. If you have books, DVDs, or video games that you’re looking to get rid of, this might be the way to go! Whaddaya think?

And the seller who had the Vibrams doesn’t have any more in stock, so I can’t buy them with my credit. So it goes…

how to get a cardio workout from weight training

It is very common for people to treat weight training and cardio as two separate activities. While there are some specific goals that would require them to be, for most of us who are just looking to get/stay healthy and lose/maintain weight, they can easily go together.

Before we can understand how this is possible, we need to be able to answer the question, “What is cardio?”

Common answers include:

  • walking
  • running
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • rowing
  • dancing

Or machines:

  • treadmill
  • stationary bike
  • elliptical
  • rower
  • stair climber

And while all of these (and more) have the potential to be cardio, they aren’t necessarily so, and they definitely aren’t the only options.

“Cardio” is any activity that sustains a raised heart rate over a long period of time. So if you’re fairly fit and you go for a stroll, it’s not a cardio workout because it’s not going to significantly raise your heart rate. Likewise, if you haven’t exercised at all in the 20 years that you’ve had your desk job, a walk is a workout. As far as exercise is concerned, one size does not fit all.

There is a general formula for your target heart rate: 220 – age = maximum heart rate; the target and other heart rate zones are calculated from there. I am not a fan of this formula for two reasons:

  1. its accuracy has no scientific proof
  2. it’s wildly wrong for my body

The only way really truly to know your maximum heart rate (and therefore your target heart rate) is to get a stress test done, which, for most people, is not feasible.

A good generalization is this: you should be able to carry on a conversation while you exercise. If you can’t talk, you’re working too hard to sustain the work you’re doing.

So back to weight training.

If you create your training program so that it elevates your heart rate (which it should do unless you’re working strictly for hypertrophy) and you don’t rest, you have a cardio workout built in.

How can you do that?

You can choose exercises that work opposing muscles and do them back-to-back, instead of resting in between.

For example, instead of doing three sets of triceps with rest in between, do a set of triceps and a set of biceps without rest, back and forth three times. Three sets of each gets done, but because the muscles are opposite each other, they still rest in between sets.


You can choose exercises that work opposite ends of the body and do them back-to-back, similar to the above example. So you could do push ups (upper body) alternating with lunges (lower body).


You can choose a series of exercises (usually between six and ten) and do them all back-to-back in a circuit with a short rest in between.

For example, one set each of triceps, lunges, biceps, crunches, shoulder press, push ups, row, jumping jacks, then rest for a minute, then do the whole circuit again.

All of these keep your heart rate up as long as you are working hard enough, i.e. have enough weight.

So if you’ve been spending an hour on weights and half an hour on a piece of cardio equipment, streamline your workout. Putting exercises back-to-back without rest not only gives you built-in cardio, but it also makes your weight training session more efficient (in terms of time) because you’re not sitting and resting (read: doing nothing) in between all of your sets.

P.S. The “fat burning zone” is garbage.

more on smoothies…

I am just now reading this great post from No Meat Athlete. Since I posted about smoothies yesterday, I figured I’d post this now.  It’s a more complicated recipe (or rubric, really), but it packs more nutritional punch.


The Perfect Smoothie Formula | No Meat Athlete

other people’s handiwork

Everyone I have ever heard say anything about the subject agrees: work weeks with Mondays off feel longer than regular weeks. True for you? Why is this so? (Yes, it was just last week that we had Monday off…)

A pretty varied smattering of links for you today:

High Blood Pressure Increases Dementia Risk from DiseaseProof: “Most cognitive impairment is not age-related, it is lifestyle-related.” A short, imperative read.

With Worries About BPA on the Rise, Food Manufacturers Are Turning to New Packaging from A nice summary of what is concerning about BPA as well as which manufacturers are doing something about it.

Are You Unknowingly Devaluing Yourself? from Zen Family Habits: When you make yourself available to anyone and everyone any time they ask — including your children — you devalue yourself.

Action is Character from foldedspace: “What we say doesn’t matter; it’s what we do that counts.”

Dave Scott’s Guide to Swimming Form from This video is made in the context of triathlon, but if you (freestyle) swim for exercise at all, this short video might help you make your stroke more efficient.

Meatless Meals (I Wish) My Mother Made

I struggle with lunch. Used to be that I would take a meat-and-cheese sandwich for lunch.  Then I stopped eating lunch meat (and then meat altogether). So I started making sure there were some leftovers from dinner and would take those. And then we starting using leftovers as part of our dinner meal plan. For a while, I took a veggie burger but then was trying to get into less processed foods.

Now that I am teaching only half time, there are a lot more lunch options, as I eat lunch at home. Recently, I’ve started having a green smoothie for lunch. I’m hungry for dinner a little sooner than I’d like, so I need to find something to go with or to snack on later in the afternoon, but this smoothie is delicious, easy to make, and super-healthy.

The banana makes it creamier, the frozen pineapple makes it smoothie-er, and the spinach is tasteless (unless you add too much) and packs a great vitamin punch! If the idea appeals but the recipe doesn’t, you can Google “green smoothie recipes” and get more than you could possibly use.

Green Smoothie

1 cup frozen pineapple

1 banana

1 cup spinach

1/3 cup coconut water (I’ve been using coconut water for some added nutrients. The recipe I adapted this from called for coconut milk, which I don’t care for. You could also use plain water.)

Put it all in a blender and blend.

I added 1 tablespoon of peanut butter to it the other day, and that was tasty as well.

As a side note: I hate cleaning the blender, but I figured out that once the smoothie was out, I could rinse it, put some water and a small squirt of dish soap in it, and blend for a few seconds, and that cleans it nicely 🙂

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