What I’m Reading and How It’s Changed My Thinking

Recently, while meandering through the aisles at Barnes & Noble, I stumbled upon one of my favorite actress’s – Cameron Diaz – latest endeavor: The Body Book. Intrigued (and admittedly, a bit skeptical…she is in the business of flawlessness, after all), I snagged a copy off the shelf.

And I was hooked.

We’re talking instantly. I devoured that book in just a few days…and I do mean “devour!” Both my mind and body were STARVING to absorb the information leaping off each page. Never mind that Cameron graces the world’s most glamorous stages. Reading her words, you’d think she was just some unassuming girl-next-door. She was speaking to me. She was speaking to every woman’s innermost body-image struggles. Hell, she WAS every woman. She’d faced those struggles too. And she vanquished them. How could I not be inspired?!

Throughout my later years of adolescence, I harbored a shameful secret: anorexia nervosa. Then, upon entering young adulthood, I undertook an arduous yet fulfilling journey toward both physical and emotional recovery. And these days, I’ve become outspoken on the subject of eating disorders, freely sharing from personal experience in hopes that someone – anyone – might avoid falling prey to this illness because they heard my story.

However, the temptation to slip back into those destructive patterns is an ongoing occupational hazard. On a good day, I can easily tune out the nagging voices that tick off my failures, like a Justin Bieber song on repeat.

On a bad day, I can’t focus on anything else.

But this book altered my perspective on common misconceptions about the human body, which I’d blindly accepted as fact. For the first time, I finally learned the textbook definition of a “calorie.” This thing, which makes even the most self-assured women tremble, is actually not a villain. It’s a unit of energy that the body stores while at rest, then converts into fuel while in motion. Ahem…so, I DON’T need to fear the dreaded calorie?! Simple. Straightforward. Yet revolutionary. Mind blown.

As if that eyeopener wasn’t enough cause for celebration, Cameron went on to crush another fallacy I’d once sworn by: hunger is not a sign of weakness. Au contraire! Eating sustains life, which makes being hungry a biological trigger for our survival instincts. And furthermore, by responding to this urge, we’re fueling ourselves with energy rather than cellulite.

Why did we lose sight of these 6th-grade science basics? Why do they sound radical and groundbreaking, when they should have been our bread and butter all along?

Sometimes it takes an influential force (say…Cameron Diaz, perhaps?) to aim her star power toward setting the record straight. Once and for all. Because women – regardless of shape, size, or bra cup – have been conditioned to loathe every curve and contour, when they SHOULD be skakin’ what their mamas gave them.

Reclaim the right to love your body. And take my advice: crack open The Body Book.

Do it. Like yesterday.

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15 Reasons to Get Active in the Great Outdoors

In recognition of today as summer’s official start-date, say hello to the limitless playground that is Mother Nature!

Go on, get out there…here’s why you should:


1. Increased exposure to fresh air allows the respiratory, cardiovascular, and circulatory systems to function at their optimum.

2. Being surrounded by nature – particularly plant life – has been proven to reduce anxiety, stress, and clinical depression.

3. Healing powers in both the ground and atmosphere build immunity toward chronic illnesses, such as cancer or diabetes.

4. Regular doses of natural sunlight boost the body’s production of Vitamin D, which supports bone growth and density.

5. The green pigmentation found in leafy foliage stimulates energy, elevates the mood, and sparks a burst of creativity.

6. Both holistic medicine and modern science show that walking barefoot on grass fights insomnia, leading to peaceful sleep.

7. Nature’s abundance of sensory stimuli improves concentration, memory, alertness and other cognitive functions.

8. The average person is more likely to exercise outside than at a gym, so even 10 minutes in the backyard triggers movement.

9. Exploring the wonders of this planet promotes adventure and taking chances, which is vital for personal development.

10. Unplugging from technology and greeting the new day improves eyesight, since staring at LCD screens strains the pupils.

11. Even a stroll around the block is ideal for stretching tight muscles and lubricating stiff joints – especially those knees.

12. Any amount of time spent engaging in recreational activities or relaxing outdoors naturally heightens self-esteem.

13. The simple act of leaving those 4 walls behind encourages face-to-face human interaction, connection, and community.

14. A daily retreat from urban pollution – in a park or by a lake, for instance – boosts the body’s white blood cell count by 50%.

15. Another reason to go barefoot outside, walking on earthy, rough terrain activates reflex points that ease physical tension.

Decoding “Fitspeak”

When was the last time you logged onto Twitter or Instagram and didn’t see a #gymflow mirror pic? While scanning tabloid headlines, like “Kourtney Kardashian Drops Baby Weight Thanks to Edamame Detox,” do you feel a surge of confusion followed by resentment that she thought of it first? (Whatever the HELL an edamame detox even is).

Upon hearing the word “tabata,” would you picture a hibachi grill rather than an exercise regimen? Have you given up trying to decipher what Gwyneth Paltrow means by “organic avenue,” or why anyone cares?

Like…whoever came up with this stuff must take pleasure in your befuddled brain.

Would somebody just write you a damn manual already?!

Ever since pop culture and social media outlets hopped on this new “Eat Clean Train Dirty” bandwagon, our society has begun to develop a new language. I call it “Fitspeak.”

The sophisticated-sounding terminology thrown around by magazines, celebs, personal trainers, and self-proclaimed weight loss gurus. Yup, that’s Fitspeak. I’m sure you’ve heard it used. But who, among us, can call themselves fluent?

These days, the concepts of health and fitness are less about lifestyle choices and more about trendiness. And here’s my personal take on that shift: with all these fads-of-the-moment popping up every time a new “Dr. Oz” episode airs, there’s no differentiating between them. If you can sneak “clean eats” into a conversation, you might as well be a registered dietitian. But is the average person even aware of what clean eating entails? Probably not. (I had to research…just sayin’).

So, we follow the trends and adopt the lingo. But we’re missing 1 crucial link: how those fancy words can be applied to the upkeep of our bodies. We’ve lost our knowledge and, therefore, our power. But, ladies, that ends now. The more we study Fitspeak, the more we’ll understand the difference between passing fads and nutritional values. The more we’ll know about our own wellbeing.

Right. Let’s get cracking the Fitspeak code!


Nutrition:

1. Paleo Diet: Shorthand for “paleolithic,” the idea behind this dietary plan is that if our Stone Age ancestors didn’t ingest certain foods, we shouldn’t touch them either. The paleo diet consists of lean meats and protein, high-fiber-low-starch fruits and veggies, and omega-3 oils or other unsaturated fats. That means no processed foods (refined sugars or saturated fats), grains, legumes, and most carbohydrates. Basically, expect to eat like a hunter-gatherer.

2. Gluten-Free Diet: Initially used to treat celiac disease, the idea behind this dietary plan is that avoiding gluten (a protein found in some grains) will reduce inflammation of the small intestine. The gluten-free diet consists of unprocessed nuts and legumes, eggs, lean meats (without any coating), fruits and veggies, most dairy products, and non-wheat whole grains. That means nothing made with barley, rye, wheat, or triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Basically, make GF flour your new best friend.

3. Vegan Diet: A (reduced carbon footprint) step further than vegetarianism, the idea behind this dietary plan is that any animal part or by-product should not be considered food. The vegan diet consists of fruit and veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and plant-based meat substitutes, such as tofu or tempeh. That means no processed foods, meat of any kind, eggs, honey, and dairy products. Basically, if it comes from a critter, it goes nowhere near your mouth.

4. Juice Diet: Intended for the purpose of cleansing the body from toxins, the idea behind this dietary plan is that replacing meals with organic juices for 1-2 weeks will keep your organs and blood stream in mint condition. The juice diet consists of only blended fruits and veggies. That means…well, nothing else. Except water. Literally. Basically, you better really like those leafy greens. And health professionals suggest proceeding with caution, as the benefits of juicing have yet to be proven.

Exercise:

1. Zumba Workout: Developed by a Colombian choreographer in the ’90s, this fitness program incorporates dancing and aerobics into a fast-paced cardio workout. Zumba combines movements from the following Latin dance genres: samba, salsa, soca, hip-hop, flamenco, chachacha, tango, mambo, and merengue. Some off-shoots also include lunges, squats, and martial arts. Basically, Zumba is hardcore resistance training set to lively ethnic beats.

2. Tabata Workout: Also known as HIIT (high-intensity interval training), this fitness program incorporates a series of 4 minute workout circuits that build muscle and torch excess fat. Tabata combines bursts of extreme aerobic activity and alternating recovery periods. Some regimens target strength training (e.g. push-ups, squats, or sit-ups at varying speeds), and others target cardio (e.g. hard sprints followed by a jog). Basically, welcome to the longest 4 minutes of your life.

3. Hot Yoga Workout: Widely considered the most effective method of improving flexibility, this fitness program incorporates yoga poses performed in 40% humidity. Hot Yoga combines breathing exercises, movements, and meditations, just like traditional yoga. The only difference is an added heat-factor introduced by Bikram practitioners for the purpose of sweating out toxins. Basically, you’ll want a gallon of water at the ready. Or 5 gallons, no biggie.

4. Pure Barre Workout: A fairly recent phenomenon that’s been sweeping the nation, this fitness program incorporates ballet and pilates into an hour of torture with unbelievable results. Pure Barre combines tiny isometric pulses and tucks to tone the entire body, while paying specific attention to the thighs, glutes, arms, and core. This regimen bases its effectiveness on small muscles tiring quickly and, therefore, working harder. Basically, Pure Barre will kick your ass.

My Top Picks for an “I Hate Working Out” Work-Out

You lack the motivation to tell your “Orange Is the New Black” addiction it’s time to explore other (more physical?) activities. The sheer notion of going for a jog or brushing the dust off those 5-pound weights just exhausts you. There are so many scribbles in your Lilly Pulitzer planner you don’t even have 10 spare minutes to sweat. You detest sports bras. And lycra…let’s not even touch that subject. (“No really! I’m doing a service for everybody else at the gym. No one wants to see these rolls!”). You’re notorious for making that same New Year’s Resolution every single January, then losing interest by mid-February.

In short, working out: not your thang.

Sound familiar?

Hey, you’re not alone. After all, exercise often gets a bad rap. It’s painful. It’s boring. It’s tiring. It’s daunting. It’s time consuming. It’s…blah, right? Well, at first it is. But here’s the good news: if you power through the sore muscles, fatigue, and recurring thoughts of “there are about a million other things I’d rather be doing,” you might just make a life-changing discovery. Exercise feels amazing! Invigorating. Empowering. Revitalizing. Suddenly you’ve got enough strength and stamina to run circles around the baddest bitch from “OITNB.” Hell. You’re the freakin’ Energizer Bunny!

But the fact remains that many of us still struggle with finding the willpower to push past temporary discomforts of physical exertion in order to reap long-term benefits. If that sounds suspiciously like the story of your life, then stand by. I’ve been busy scouring the web for some foolproof, fun, fast, and fairly simple work-outs that’ll make getting a sweat on easier than you ever imagined.

Anyone can learn to love the burn. Women, who never played a sport in their lives, can unleash inner-athletes when they dare to try. Those, who argue they just don’t have enough time, can find ways to make physical activity part of their daily routines.

And that means YOU too.

Yup, even you can get up and move (and enjoy it to boot!). Check out my recommendations below, choose the work-out regimen that best suits your lifestyle, and start pumping those muscles. Because, girlfriend, a healthy body is a sexy body!


For Cardio Training:

1. Go for a bike ride. Intensity for your legs and relaxation for your mind, that’s the beauty of a 2-wheeler. Pick a scenic route to distract yourself from the continuous pedaling motion. Start at a leisurely pace for 30 minutes, then gradually increase to vigorous for 1 hour. So, to recap: fresh air, nature, and toned thighs. #Winning.

2. Play some DDR. Movement doesn’t have to be conventional or even choreographed. It can be as simple as jumping around your living room, courtesy of Dance Dance Revolution. Challenge yourself with the “Maniac” mode and see how long you can keep pace before getting booed off the stage. Never has sweating been so fun.

3. Take the plunge. Swimming laps is one of the most effective full-body exercises like…ever. So, “beach babes” and “pool partiers,” take heart: your natural habitat can be part of your fitness plan. For someone of average endurance, a basic routine would include 2 breaststroke laps, 2 freestyles, 2 backstrokes, and 2 butterflies.


For Strength Training:

1. Jump Squat: This move targets both your upper and lower body. Follow these steps to execute a jump squat: (1) lace fingers behind head and stand with feet shoulder-width apart (2) bend knees slightly to gain momentum, then launch straight into the air (3) after landing, lower body down as far as you can with hips and glutes pushed back  (4) hold for 5 counts, then raise yourself back to a standing position (5) repeat 20 times. You should particularly feel the burn in your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes,

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(image courtesy of healthfulpage.com)

2. Bicycle Crunch: This move primarily targets your core. Follow these steps to execute a bicycle crunch: (1) lie flat with lower back pressed into the floor (2) lace fingers at the base of neck and contract abdominal muscles (3) raise legs to a 45-degree angle and bend knees (4) move legs in a circular motion as though pedaling a bike (5) lift upper body off the floor and twist from one side to the other, alternately touching one elbow to the opposite knee (6) repeat 30 times on each side. You should particularly feel the burn in your obliques.

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(image courtesy of sassyfitgirl.com)

3. Push-Up: This move primarily targets your upper body. Follow these steps to execute a push-up: (1) lower down to a plank position with hands facing forward and spread shoulder-width apart (2) flatten back and push glutes down, creating a straight slant along spine (3) clench glutes and tighten abdominal muscles (4) bend elbows and lower body down, while still maintaining a straight spine (5) hold this position for 2 counts, then raise back up into a plank (5) repeat 40 times. You should particularly feel the burn in your triceps, deltoids, and pectorals.

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(image courtesy of fitsugar.com)