Burn Calories All Day with This Leg Workout

Happy Friday y’all! I hope it has been a great one.  What muscle group did you train today?  This morning I trained legs.  It was intense!  I was drenched in sweat because it kept my heart rate up, my breathing rate was increased, and it challenged me. As a result of my workout this morning I have been STARVING all day.  I am generally always hungry (life of being a bikini fitness competitor) but it is more so today.

My metabolism was increased today because this leg workout not only worked out a large muscle group but the high intensity kept my body working hard.  Try this workout below to keep burning calories all day long.

The key is to keep moving.  You want no rest between exercises and little rest between sets. I just rested long enough to catch my breath, motivate myself, and set up for the exercise.

Try a challenging and heavy weight, however do not sacrifice form.  You want the weight challenging enough to make the set difficult but light enough to complete the set safely.  For example I could have squatted heavier but because I wanted to go for higher reps I kept my weight a bit lower.  No need to be a super hero – you will feel like a warrior when you are done, though! My advice – start out lighter, you can always add weight as you go.

Set 1

Lying Leg Extension

Leg Extension

Split Squat (12 reps each leg)

5 sets with 15 reps

Set 2

Barbell Squats (first 2 sets I completed 15 reps) – (I increased weight on barbell every couple of sets – the last set was heaviest and I could get in 10 reps)

Single Leg Hack Squat

Glute Push-Down

5 sets with 12 reps each

Set 3

Stiff Leg Deadlift (I increased weight after 2 sets)

Lying Leg Press – feet high and wide

Lying Leg Press – feet high and narrow

Seated Calf Raises

5 sets with 15 reps each

By the end of this workout you will be hungry and you can be sure your metabolism will have a burst to burn extra calories throughout the day.  Don’t use that as an excuse to overindulge, so be careful with hunger cravings.  Be sure to eat a small meal every couple of hours that includes a protein, a fat, and a carb.  I expect some Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) the next couple of days because this workout gave a great burn!

 

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You Can Do All Things!

On my forearm I have some beautiful words tattooed – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.  This comforting statement has profound meaning. It means that because of my Higher Power I can do anything. I can set goals, I can dream, I can live a life of passion, and I can have hope. 

 

Lately this reminder has helped encourage me. As I prepare for my first competition in 3 weeks I am more tired and I am training more. I am sore all over. I am doing more cardio than I prefer and I am hungry. I want to cheat or take it easy. I walk into the gym each day and have difficulty getting motivated. However I get started. And each and every time I push through. I push harder.  I get stronger.  I run faster. I keep going when I want to stop. Not because of myself. But because I have a strength inside me that allows me to do all things. 

We forget our power. We forget the power we have through our Higher Power. We allow our own flawed thinking and skewed perceptions of ourselves to hold us back. A friend stopped me at the gym the other day to compliment me in my progress. I accepted graciously and then proceeded to tell her where I felt I was lacking and cast doubt and skeptism on my progress. She reminded me my perception was not accurate and that what I saw was not what others saw. She related and talked about her own skewed thinking regarding fitness.  For my friend she was feeling tired, overwhelmed, and exhausted. She had personal issues that were impacting her life and her family. This would cause anyone to be more tired, stressed, and vulnerable. Yet she continued to do!  She kept working out, she kept taking care of her family, and she kept doing well at her job. 

The ability to keep going despite adverse circumstances or a desire to dedicate your self to an activity requires strength. I am not an athlete because of genetic or situational factors. I am an athlete because I have a Higher Power that allows me to do all things. Alone I would not be competing, nor would I have the displine or commitment to keep training. But because I believe in a Mighty and stronger Higher Power I know I can compete and I know I can stay focused and consistent. When we become self involved our thinking becomes narrowed and too focused on self. We start to evaluate our weaknesses and remember our failures. We compare ourselves to others. I am not an athlete. I never compete in anything, nor did I want to. I always quit when things get hard. I do not want to be challenged. Honestly if my training were up to me alone, I would have quit. However my inner power keeps me focused and shows me every time I workout that I can. 

I can do all things. I can!  When I remember the Power I have I am stronger. I am braver. I am more confident. You are stronger than you think. You are braver than you think. You can run faster and longer than you think. You can have self-control around food. You can do one more push-up. You can lose weight, find health, and love your body. You can if you remember your Power!  Your Higher Power is with you all day, every day, and it will give you strength, courage, and passion to all things!

It’s A Lifestyle Change

“Progress not perfection”.  I have said that probably a thousand times.  “Fitness is a lifestyle change”.  I have also said that a thousand times.  Yet despite the frequency we are reminded of these encouraging statements, people continue to struggle with the process of living a healthy lifestyle.  I want to spend some time talking about living a healthy life and explain how distracted views, unrealistic goals, and difficult expectations make fitness for life challenging.

I want to start with my personal journey.  I was not athletic as a child.  I was not tough or strong.  I was sensitive, creative, whimsical, and fun.  I wanted to spend my time hanging out with friends and sought to discover life on my own terms.  At a young age I started to experiment with drugs and alcohol.  It is by the grace of God that I never physically harmed or arrested, although I did land myself into some legal troubles, during my escapades.  I witnessed numerous friends make life altering choices that left emotional, mental, and physical scars.  I saw myself go from a secure young lady to a confused and morally lacking young adult.  All I cared about was the next party or the next opportunity to hang out.  This lifestyle started to negatively impact my professional future.  I was at a University and I was broke, alone, miserable, and depressed.  One night my parents had an intervention with me and threatened to pull me out of Baylor University.  Mind you, going to Baylor had been my childhood dream.  They threatened to force me home, make me get a job, and start drug and alcohol rehab.  I had hit “rock bottom”.  I re-focused my priorities and my responsibilities, found a job, and I was able to find a balance to graduate successfully from Baylor University.

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Picture of me and a friend not long after graduation from Baylor – I am the brunette and at a heavier weight.

I was quickly accepted to graduate school in Chicago, Illinois.  Living in Chicago proved to be too much for this young, small town girl.  I quickly returned to the party lifestyle.  My days were spent in school and my nights consisted of drinking and dancing until it was time to go back to class. My diet consisted of “hangover food” from any grease filled fast-food chain or Chicago-style pizza.  Needless to say I was overweight.  Eventually I added an internship to this mix.  I worked with children that had witnessed domestic violence or abuse and helped mothers that had been violently abused by their partners navigate the court process and start the emotional healing process.  Most days I left my “job” in tears feeling hopeless and angry of the hate that existed in the world.  This only fueled my desire to drink more.  I  held it together long enough to graduate with a 4.0 and land my “dream job” immediately following graduation.  I worked with young women with eating disorders, trauma, and substance abuse issues.  Rather than carefully learn to cope with what I heard and saw I choose to cope by staying up until 5 and 6 in the morning drinking and eating poorly.  It all caught up to me one morning as I was driving to work on a busy Chicago interstate when I had to pull-over and vomit from being too drunk from the night before.  During supervision later that day, my director looked at me and asked, “Is anyone using drugs or alcohol to cope?”.  Although I knew she was talking to me I denied this to her, the group, and to myself.

I was a hot mess.  I was overweight, sick, and hated myself.  It was time for a change.  During this time my sister was planning a wedding.  I purchased my bridesmaid dress and gained so much weight that when I needed to have it altered the seamstress said to me, “why do you buy a dress and gain so much weight”? I was at least 4-6 dress sizes bigger!  My wake up call came when I moved for a job to a small East Texas town.  My friend and I decided that in order to save money we would stop eating out and drinking for 60 days.  I bought food to eat at home and since my social life was lacking I bought 2 $10 dance workout DVDs.  This was late 2006 that I started to eat healthy and workout.  I started using the DVDs in my living room 3 days a week.  I started feeling better.  I started spending time working on my spiritual life grew spirituality and emotionally.  I had improved self-esteem, confidence, and fulfilled relationships.  I was truly happy.

I am not sure what I weighed when I started my journey in 2006.  I do know at one point I weighed as much as 160 pounds and I was wearing between a size 12 and size 14.  However as I improved my life my physical body started to shed weight.  My clothes got bigger.  They were so big they were uncomfortable to wear.  I had to buy a whole new wardrobe.  I became stronger and started working out in my apartment complex fitness center.  It felt so good to be in charge of my life that I was working out 5 days a week.  As I continued to work on myself I obtained a job promotion and once again moved.  This time I moved to a suburb of Houston.  I was thin, happy, and confident.  I started to workout more.  I was the girl in the gym 3 hours a day 7 days a week.  I read books and journals on food and found that I was eating less and less.  After reading Skinny Bitch, which I advise anyone interested in the quality of our food to read, I threw away all the food in my house and vowed to be vegan.  I lost even more weight.  People commented on my body and my physique and how they wanted my abs, my arms, and sought to weigh as much as I did.

Sadly I, too, was obsessed with the number on the scale.  I thought that if I weighed a certain number I would have achieved the ultimate goal.  As I lost more weight I became sicker both emotionally and physically.  I lost my period for several months.  I would weigh myself 3 times a day and if the number went up, I would lock myself in my house, cry, and tell myself I was fat.  One night I had plans to hang out with friends.  These were great plans too, it was going to be a fun night.  However, I weighed before I left for the night and I had gained.  I drove around for 2 hours crying and squeezing all the “fat” on my body.  I drove home and knew I had a problem.

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A picture of me at my thinnest – I was unhealthy and obsessed with the number on the scale.

I had to find “balance”.  That was the word my psychologist said to me and it made total sense.  I had spent my life letting something consume my thoughts, behaviors, and my emotions.  She explained I could have health, fitness, friends, professional success, and love all at the same time.  When I stopped worrying about achieving a particular goal and enjoyed the daily process I was able to find balance.  This was 2009.  Since that time I enjoy the daily process.  I enjoy the work that needs to be done today because in 6 weeks, 6 months, 1 year, 6 years, I will be a different, better, and more fabulous place.

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How I started to look as I found a balance – I was fit, active, healthy, successful, and happy.

So many people ask me, “what do I do to lose weight?”, “what do I do to have toned arms?”, or “what do I do to have a better booty?”  Here is the answer – WORK – every single day!  The fitness instructor you see or the toned and strong person you see in the gym did not wake up looking that way.  They have been working toward their physique everyday.  Most often for YEARS!  They embrace the daily grind and know the decisions made today will lead to results tomorrow.

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Progress picture – from early in my prep

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Progress this week – 8 total weeks!

I know so many people that spend hours in the gym, and they are in every group fitness class.  As a group fitness instructor I love people like you in my classes.  You make my classes fun and challenging.  However if you want to see progress the key is not to spend hours in group fitness classes.  (Please keep coming to class, but understand I did not achieve my physique by attending group fitness classes).  However I want to keep you from hitting rock bottom and having to experience the emotional and psychological pain I felt.  I want you to know that you can achieve a healthy lifestyle.

The key to living a healthy lifestyle is to eat with balance, workout with balance, and live life with balance.  You must eat healthy.  Your diet must be consistent from day to day.  A healthy lifestyle is actively making a decision to chose to eat fruit instead of cake at the company party and not feeling deprived.  A healthy lifestyle means eating a meal at home rather than the drive thru.  A healthy lifestyle means drinking water instead of soda, EVERY SINGLE DAY!  However living this lifestyle means that you can afford to eat cake or you can afford a nice dinner at restaurant and do it guilt free and without sabotaging your hard work.

Living a healthy lifestyle is knowing that physical fitness and exercise is necessary for mental, physical, and emotional health.  It is a decision to workout daily.  It is knowing that a balanced workout regime should include some cardio and strength training.  Your cycle instructor with the toned arms did not get toned arms from riding a stationary bicycle.  No, the lean arms comes from lifting weights.  My physique did not come from teaching cycle or RIPPED, no it came from lifting heavy and hard before and sometimes after class.

A healthy lifestyle means it is OK to say “no”.  There are times when your family will need your attention, your support, and your love.  Family is always more important than a workout.  You can plan accordingly and get your workouts in prior to the commitment and enjoy a family day and a rest day at the same time.  Rest is necessary to build muscle and burn fat.  You body will not improve if it is constantly under stress from working out.

Going to the gym consistently 3-4 days a week, or more, for 6 months may not yield the results you want.  If you started working out in January and still have weight to lose and muscles to tone than keep going.  If every time you work out you expect to reach your goal, you will never be satisfied.  A healthy lifestyle means doing the work because you know that each day you get a little better.  Give up on achieving your goal and start living life.  Start living a life where you choose health, you chose happiness, you choose love, and you choose wellness.  One day you will look back and see how far you have come!

Are you Fully Well? 31 Steps to Find Happiness in Life

We all want to be happier, healthier, fitter, richer, and more successful.  As humans, we fundamentally have this right.  Although we have this right, I question if many of us are truly well.  Wellness is having  happiness, physical, emotional, and spiritual health, success, loving and supportive relationships, and ultimately satisfaction in life.  Millions of Americans are constantly pursuing this yet so many struggle to find it.

All seek wellness but many struggle to achieve it.  There are many reasons people struggle to find life satisfaction.  A major reason people struggle to obtain wellness is because limit their focus on improving only one area of life.  Wellness includes many different facets of being human.  Wellness is what makes a person whole and wellness involves all human thoughts, actions, beliefs, experiences, hopes, and expectations.  Rather than working to improve the whole person many people become fixated on fixing one area of life.  The expectation is that improving in one area of life will bring ultimate wellness.  A common belief is that to become more fit and lose weight means more success in relationships, health, emotions, thinking, and behavior.   It is true that making positive changes will increase confidence, health, thinking, behavior, and interactions with others.  However people are more than physically fit creatures.  Achieving physical fitness will not improve relationships, job happiness, emotional health, or spiritual health unless individuals work on these areas daily as well.  The “psyche” (who you are) strives for balance in all areas of life.  When one area starts to decline, other areas will all decline.  Whereas when areas of a person start to improve, other areas also need to improve to achieve wellness.

Lisa Rankin, MD describes the concept of wellness and explains that in order to find wellness a person needs to achieve satisfaction and happiness in different areas of life.  Lisa describes the areas of wellness as, physical health, mental health, finances, environment, creativity, sexuality, spirituality, work and purpose in life, and loving and supportive relationships. (You can read more about Dr. Rankin and her wellness model by clicking the link associated with her name above).

Finding happiness in these areas brings happiness with self and with life.  Part of achieving wellness is honoring your own beliefs, morals, values, expectations, hopes, and dreams.  The heart of wellness is connecting to “who you really are”.  I know this is a concept that millions struggle with.  Age does not mean a person has achieved wellness and many will waste a lifetime questioning who they are and their purpose in life.  However working to find balance in all areas of life can help people figure this out.  A person can achieve wellness in life by daily practicing behavior that will strengthen and improve these areas.

1.  Seek pleasure!  Find something that makes you happy and do it every day.  If you enjoy chocolate have one piece of dark chocolate a day.  You do not have to limit yourself or deny yourself things that you like or enjoy.  That is the opposite of wellness.  Do not over indulge either.  You are allowed to enjoy while you work to achieve wellness.

2.  Volunteer and help others.  We live on a planet with billions of others and all of us are connected.  We can make the world a better place when we decide to help others.

3.  Remember and recall your blessings daily!

4.  Hug the ones you love as much as you can.  A hug makes them feel better and will make you feel better as well.

5.  Be physically active every day.  Take a walk.   Walk the dog.  Play tennis or basketball with your kids.

6.  Eat more fruits and vegetables.  Try to eat a cup of fruit or vegetables at every meal.

7.  Do not be afraid to seek medical care.

8.  Journal for 20-30 minutes a day.  Find a pen, paper, and a quiet spot and simply write your thoughts and feelings in that moment.  Journal pleasant and unpleasant thoughts and feelings.  Journaling these things can help you release emotions, connect your mind to your body, and help control thinking and feelings.

9.  Do not hold onto emotions.  Many people are fearful of expressing feelings like sadness and anger for fear of consequences.  Feelings are never a bad thing, rather the reaction to the emotion may hold devastating consequences.  Find ways to express emotions in healthy and socially acceptable ways.

10.  Engage in positive thinking daily.  Negative thinking causes negative emotions.  Simply switching thinking will improve your mood.  Read affirmations, count your blessings, think of happier times, and engage in behaviors that make you smile.  These things will improve your thinking and your mood.

11.  Make a monthly budget.  Determine when bills are due and establish a budget based on spending patterns last month.  Keep this budget with you when you go shopping or leave the house.  Spend only money allowed according to the budget that has been established.

12.  Be in control of your money.  Tell your money where to go.  Your money does not control you.  You are the boss of your money and you can use your new budget to determine how and when money is spent.

13.  Limit spending.  We live in a society where we believe we need certain items to make us happy, successful, and satisfied.  Sadly these things do not love us back and continue to leave us lacking.  There are few things that we as humans really need (food, shelter, water, and connection with others).  All other things can wait until you have saved enough to purchase it.

14.  Where you live, work, and play determines how you feel.  Make your home comfortable.  Clean out and organized drawers and throw away any unnecessary items.

15. Rearrange items or furniture to give your office or home a new fresh look.

16. Take a walk in a park or sit outside in a place full of nature.  Spend time enjoying the ambiance of the outdoors and the creatures that live there.

17.  You do not have to be an artist to be creative.  Try reading a book or listening to music.  Let this inspire your mind.

18.  Journaling can also spark ideas and solutions.

19.  Take a class to learn more about a creative outlet.  Try a cooking class, a pottery class, painting lessons, or a dance class.

20.  Be proud of who you are!  You are you.  You are unique.  This is what makes you and the world special.

21.  Find confidence in your body by highlighting areas of your body that make you proud.

22.  Respect your body.  It is your body and it is only one you will have.  Express yourself and avoid limits but practice self-control and know your boundaries.

23.  Meditate/pray daily.

24.  Connect with your Higher Power.  You do not need to be a Christian to have spiritual practices and beliefs.  Know there is a source greater than you that is in control.  Letting go of control to a Higher Power gives freedom.

25.  Let go and forgive others.

26.  What did you want to be when you grew up? Ask yourself this question to help discover your passion and purpose in life.

27.  Make an effort daily to work toward or learn what you need to do what you want to do. Make a To-Do list of things needed to prepare you or start living your dreams.

28.  Find what you love and discover your passion by talking and serving others.  Volunteering not only serves others but will serve you to discover your purpose in life.

29.  Make time weekly to spend undistracted time with loved ones.  Turn off cell phones, TV, cancel all other responsibilities, and make a day where you can focus on the ones you love.

30.  Listen to your loved ones.  Hear what they are telling you and acknowledge how they feel.  This does not mean you have to agree, it only means you hear what they are telling you.

31.  Do not assume your loved ones can read your mind.  They cannot!  It is up to you to tell them what you need and what you expect from them.

This list is not exhaustive.  There are hundreds of ways to find wellness.  Wellness is unique to each person. The key is to seek fulfillment in all areas of life.  It is great to focus on your physical fitness, but are you neglecting those you love as a result?  It is great to have lots of friends, be kind to others, and serve others but you may neglect your self by not maintaining boundaries or allowing yourself to do things you truly enjoy.  Wellness is worth pursuing.  You deserve health and happiness in all areas of your life.

 

Eat for Health – the Weight Loss and New Body Will Just Be An Added Benefit

There is so much emphasis on fad diets nowadays and people are frequently talking about the newest workout trend.  These things can be exciting and are fun to try.  The trick for maintaining wellness and health, for life, is to find what works best for you.  This requires patience because it takes time to have your body adjust to a new diet and workout routine and then it takes time for your body to show the progress of these changes.  I encourage you to try different things.  Try different workouts.  Try different ways of being physically active.  Try different diets.  This will help you find what is best for you.

However, as far as diet is concerned, adjusting your meal plan too much can cause serious health problems.  You see what you eat impacts your body, every single square inch of your body, all the way down to your cells.  Let’s discuss a little biology 101.  (Don’t worry I am not a biologist, so I will keep this simple).  As a living organism we are made up of cells.  These tiny little life sources contain many parts, including DNA.  DNA, without getting too complicated, is the roadmap that provides the directions to live, to be you, and to be human.  DNA, although tiny, is what contains your uniqueness, your ability to breathe, your ability to think, and your ability to live your life.  DNA is always replicating and reproducing in our cells to make more cells.  As long as we keep making cells then we can continue to live a healthy life.   What you eat will contain chemicals, nutrients, and products that will be metabolized down to your DNA.  Your DNA needs food and will use these chemicals, nutrients, and products (healthy or not) to continue replicating and reproducing.  It has been said before, you are what you eat!

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Some foods contain nutrients and products to help DNA continue to grow in healthy manner.  However there are also foods that can destroy and damage DNA.  Literally there are foods that will change your DNA, and this will increase risk for heart disease, cancer, blood disorders, and speed up the aging process.   Cells will be damaged, although cell death and cell damage is a natural process, you do not want to speed up this process.  What causes danger is when cells become mutated and rather than die they work to replicate the mutated cells.  This may be a slow process in the body, however, in the form of some illnesses and disease the health implications become more evident.

What you eat can slow down the aging process.  Food can actually heal the body from illness.  What you eat may not cure your illness, but it could improve your health.  What you eat can reduce the risk of disease and illness in the future.  Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring nor does it have to taste bad.  Eating healthy is as simple as adding some foods and spices to your diet.  Consider adding these things to your diet to help fight aging and improve your health.

  • Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that can slow down cells destruction. They are also associated with reduced heart disease, cancer risk, and disease.  Strive for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  Try adding 1/2 of blueberries to cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, a banana mid morning will keep energy levels up, add a cup of broccoli to your lunch, an apple mid afternoon will help avoid that 3:00pm crash, and eat asparagus with your dinner.  Sadly french fries are the most consumed “vegetable” by American children.  Not knocking potatoes or French fries, but other fruits and vegetables offer better health benefits.
  • Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that only they can provide.  They provide the type of nutrition that cannot be obtained from a supplement or vitamin.  Try eating orange fruits and vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, cantaloupe, and apricots) to improve the health of your eyes.  That is not just a myth, carrots contain nutrients that contain the same properties needed for your eyes! Eating green and yellow fruits and vegetables like melon, avocado, kiwi, green beans, and spinach are associated with decreased cancer risks.  Onions, mushrooms, potatoes and turnips lowers bad cholesterol.  Blueberries, blackberries, and eggplant improve memory and reduce the effects of cell aging.  Peppers and apples reduce risk of cancer and improve heart health.  Eat a rainbow for wellness and health!
  • Rather than cooking with butter try adding olive oil.  Do not be dismayed that oil is a fat.  We need fat in our diet.  Cooking with oil will help protect cells from damage, and oil is associated with decreased heart disease risk.
  • Nuts and flaxseed are another great fat source with added health benefits.  Walnuts, soy, flaxseeds, and beans contain nutrients to lower heart disease risks.

Perhaps eating vegetables, nuts, and beans is not your favorite thing – never fear there are things you can do to spice up your food that will help decrease adverse health complications.

  • Not only will many herbs and spices add a nice flavor to your foods but they offer health benefits as well.
  • For example garlic has chemical properties associated with decreased cancer risk.  Evidence suggested that properties of garlic fought against tumor growth and lowered risk of heart disease.  Garlic is easy to add to most foods.  Simply buy a bulb, crush, and add to meats or vegetables for a flavorful and healthy dish.
  • If garlic is too overwhelming add onion, chives, or leeks to meats and vegetables.  Research has demonstrated these additions can reduce risk of heart disease.
  • Another simple spice to add to your diet to improve the health benefits of your food is cinnamon.  Cinnamon can be added daily and adding cinnamon has been associated with decreased inflammation and decreased blood clotting.  In other words cinnamon will improve your immune system and can help keep the heart healthy by keeping blood clots from developing.  Another perk of cinnamon is that it helps with metabolism and research demonstrated it helped the body process carbohydrates.  This is important for the risk and management of diabetes because it will help blood sugar levels remain stable.  Cinnamon can be added to toast, cereal, oatmeal, coffee, and tea.  All that is needed for health benefits is 1/2 tsp.
  • Rosemary is an easily found herb that can be quickly added to foods.  Rosemary will improve food flavor and is associated with decreased cancer risk.  Try seasoning meats with rosemary.

Do not fall for the belief that dairy is bad.  Dairy is a fat, but again, fat is needed in the diet.  Here are some dairy options to consider adding to your diet for improved health.

  • Yogurt contains probiotics and probiotics (a bacteria needed for digestion) helps keep the colon and digestive system healthy and working properly.  Many yogurts contain high sugar amounts in order to improve taste.  However it is easy to keep a healthier version and still the enjoy the taste.  Add peanut butter – peanut butter makes everything better.  Or add microwaved frozen cherries, strawberries, or blueberries to a plain non-fat yogurt.  Adding granola or nuts will give the yogurt a nice taste and a crunch.
  • Drink milk because it contains calcium to keep bones strong.

And if you are still not sure you will enjoy the healthier food options discussed, try eating chocolate.

  • Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is associated with decreased risk of heart disease.  Chocolate contains chemicals and nutrients that helps arteries to improve blood flow and heart strength.
  • Chocolate, however, should be eaten with caution.  This does not give you permission to binge on chocolate.  Eating chocolate in moderation provides a health benefit.  It is easy to binge on chocolate due the association of chocolate and the pleasure receptors in the brain.  In order to avoid overeating chocolate use mindfulness while eating.  Have a seat in a relaxed area with limited distractions.    Enjoy the taste of the chocolate as you eat it.  Remaining mindful while eating chocolate will decrease the likelihood of overindulging in chocolate.  Calories may need to be replaced elsewhere when chocolate is consumed and strive to eat 3-4 oz of chocolate a week.

Carbohydrates are not bad either.  Carbohydrates are necessary for metabolizing food and for maintaining and growing muscles.  Carbohydrates are helpful for health in the following forms:

  • Carbohydrates contain fiber.  Look for foods that contain about 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber.  Fiber helps reduce risk of heart disease, reduces inflammation, and helps with digestion.
  • The problem with fiber and carbohydrates is that Americans may be consuming types that are more difficult for the body to process and metabolize and increase blood sugar levels rather than stabilize.
  • Oats and beans are high in fiber, have improved health benefits, and will also help you feel fuller longer.
  • Quinoa is a grain not only high in fiber but tons of healthy nutrients.  Quinoa is easy to eat instead of rice.
  • Eat whole grains to reduce the risk of heart disease.  There are many foods that claim to contain whole grain.  However Americans are still not consuming enough.  Look for food products that list “whole wheat flour”, “whole oats”, or “whole grain corn” first.  Wheat bread or brown bread may not contain sufficient whole grains so choose breads carefully by reading the ingredients.

You do not have to eat chicken and broccoli at every meal to find health and weight loss.  Health and weight loss can happen by simply adding fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, fats, and whole grains to your daily meals.  To be healthy does not mean you need to cut out foods you enjoy, to be healthy means to eat various foods, eat more colorful foods, and eat all foods in moderation.

Your Food Can Impact Your Mood

Millions of people experience periods of depression.  Millions also have a chemical imbalance, due to mental illness, that creates difficulty regulating moods.  Although research clearly supports the effectiveness of medications to treat depression and other mood disorders many individuals choose to refrain from pharmaceutical treatment due to side-effects and costs of psychotropic medications.

There is new research to suggest that quality of food is related to mood.  Researchers are looking at how particular foods will either improve mood or contribute to depression, anxiety, stress, anger, and psychosis.  For example a study looked at mood and food consumption and found that women with high fat diets had increased levels of depression and women with increased starch in their daily diets had increased anger (Pepino, Finkbeiner, & Mennella, 2009).  Diet and mood are closely related due to evidence that suggests that diet, regardless of healthy or less healthy, changes the brain.

The food consumed contains chemicals, vitamins, substances, and nutrients the body needs to function.  The importance of food on brain functioning became more clear as researchers found a connection between the “gut” and the brain.  The gut/brain connection is important to understand how food impacts mood.  Specifically the stomach, intestines, and the brain share the same tissue and nerves, and the nerves in the gut transmits chemicals directly to the brain (Mayer, 2011).  If chemicals in the gut, where food begins the metabolic process, are stable then chemicals in the brain will remain stable.  However as the chemicals in the gut become unregulated due to food consumption and metabolism then the chemicals in the brain will also become unrelated.  For example once food in consumed the body starts to metabolize food in the cells and this signals a growth hormone in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (Gomez-Pinnilla, & Nguyen, 2012).  This chemical is responsible for growing new brain neurons and helps keep the brain healthy and functioning well.  BDNF is needed for memory, energy, and learning (Gomez-Pinnilla, & Nguyen, 2012).  BDNF levels are also related to mood and researchers found that decreased BDNF was associated with a depressed mood.  Due to this connection of brain chemicals in the gut researchers looked at how foods impacted the regulation of brain chemicals.  Specifically researchers found that increased sugar intake was related to suppressed BDNF levels (Sharma & Fulton, 2013).  Clearly the type of foods consumed, the amount of food consumed, and the quality of food consumed is important not only for physical health but for mental and emotional health.

Sugar is not the only food that is associated with dysregulated moods. Specifically diets high in fat are related to decreased hippocampus functioning and this will decrease how the brain works, thinks, and responds.  Individuals with difficulty thinking, focusing, and recalling memories may have diets higher in fat.  Additionally research indicated that diets high in calories were related to increases in a chemical, reactive oxygen species (ROS).  ROS is a harmful chemical that destroys cells and increased ROS is related to increased psychiatric disease (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012; Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).  However the foods consumed can reverse this damage as well as improve brain functioning.  Specifically foods that contain antioxidants will protect the brain from ROS (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).

It is easy to read this information and think that elimination of certain foods will help improve brain functioning and mood.  Eliminating foods can only further cause brain deterioration and mood problems.  For example there is often fear that consuming carbs will increase weight gain.  Carbs contain sugar and therefore many eliminate carbs from the diet due to fear of weight gain, and now in an attempt to improve mood.  Although increased sugar intake will increase inflammation, decrease immunity, and decrease the brains ability to process insulin and leptin (chemicals needed for energy), carbs are necessary for the brain to function properly (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012).  Specifically carbs contain tryptophan, an amino acid, and increased tryptophan is associated with increased serotonin.  Increased serotonin levels will improve depression.  The message communicated by this research is that the quality of food consumed will impact mood.

The following is a list of foods that are associated with improving mood.

  1. Carbs like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain tryptophan that will improve mood by increasing serotonin levels (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012).
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids are foods like fish, flaxseed and walnuts. Omega-3 is associated with decreased depression.  Adding omega-3 is important to mental health.  Research suggested that decreased levels of omega-3 was associated with decreased brain size and increased suicidal ideation (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012; Lin, Mischoulon, Freeman, Matsuoka, Hibbein, Belmaker, & Su, 2012).  If fish is not regularly consumed an individual could benefit from adding an omega-3 daily supplement.
  3. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants to protect against ROS as well as contain chemicals, called polyphenols, that promote brain growth and health (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).  Fruits like plums, apples, and cherries also contain chlorogenic acid, which is associated with decreased anxiety (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).  Blueberries and blackberries are high in antioxidants and are associated with improved dopamine levels.  Dopamine is associated with improved coordination, memory, thinking, and mood (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012).
  4. Green tea contains epigallocat echin gallate, EGCG, which is responsible for improving cognitive functioning, improved focus, improved concentration, improved thinking, and improved mood (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).
  5. Turmeric, a common spice that contains curcumin, has many health benefits, including improved mood.  Specifically curcumin increased serotonin and dopamine in the brain and this was associated with decreased depression and decreased stress (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).
  6. Foods like turkey and chicken  contain protein sources that are important to control mood due to the ability to regulate blood sugar levels.  Increased blood sugar is related to irritability, depression, and anger (Sharma & Fulton, 2013).  Therefore lean proteins will promote weight loss and regulate blood sugars to control mood.

A diet high in fat, high in sugar, high in processed foods, and high in carbs may contribute to difficulty regulating mood.  Eating well one meal may cause a temporary change in mood, thinking, and energy, however, in order to maintain a positive mood it is recommended that healthy and whole foods be consumed daily with every meal.

For more information please see the following article: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/02/food-affects-mood.aspx

References:

Davidson, K., & Kaplan, B. (2012).  Food intake and blood cholesterol levels of community-based adults with mood disorders.  BMC Psychiatry, 12, ArtID10.

Gomez-Pinilla, F., & Nguyen, T. (2012).  Natural mood foods: The actions of polyphenols against psychiatric and cognitive disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 15(3), 127-133.

Lin, P.Y., Mischoulong, D., Freeman, M.P., Matsuoka, Y., Hibbein, J., Belmaker, R.H., & Su, K.P. (2012). Are omega-3 fatty acids antidepressants or just mood-improving agents? The effect depends upon diagnosis, supplement preparation, and severity of depression.  Molecular Psychiatry, 17(12), 1161-1163.

Mayer, E. (2011).  Gut feelings: The emerging biology of gut-brain communication.  Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 12(8), 453-466.

Pepino, M., Finkbeiner, S., & Mennella, J. (2009).  Similarities in food cravings and mood states between obese women and women who smoke tobacco.  Obesity, 17(6), 1158-1163.

Sharma, S. & Fulton, S. (2013).  Diet-induced obesity promotes depressive-like behavior that is associated with neural adaptations in brain reward circuitry.  International Journal of Obesity, 37(3), 382-389.

The ONE Thing You Can Do To Improve Your Workout Gains

I have been working out consistently for about 7 years. I have also maintained healthy eating consistently during that time. Granted the intensity at which I worked and the dedication to my meal plan have not always been 100 my commitment, passion, and interest to maintain fitness and achieve physical goals with my body have always been consistent. 

Despite all my work I still see areas of my that need improvement. I am probably like most girls that complain about particular areas of my body. A lot of my commitment and dedication to working out and eating well was an attempt to change my body. And still after all this time, I struggle to accept, appreciate, and value areas of my body. In fact I felt ashamed of parts of my body and I would try to hide these “flaws”.

Outsiders see my body and have their own opinions and I have been called crazy for not fully accepting my body. People may say “you are so skinny”, “you are so fit”, or “I wish I looked like you”. However kind those words may be I struggled to accept their compliments because all I saw was “thunder things”. How I viewed my body, known as body image, was not accurate and was based on a skewed idea. 

Researchers posit that body image consists of an individuals thoughts about their body and these thoughts are based on the individuals situation (Bruin, Oudejans, Bakker, & Woertman, 2011).  For example you see your body as it relates to an idea in your head that developed from seeing others, watching TV, and reading magazines. When what you see does not match the idea in your head you will start to judge your body. Judging your body and having negative thoughts about your body will prevent you from seeing your body accurately. It will cause you to have negative thoughts and feelings about your body. If you think you have “thunder thighs” then when you look at your body you will see “thunder thighs”. This is not just an issue that will impact individuals with eating disorders. No, body image will also impact people that strive for fitness and health. This is known as “athletic body image” (Bruin, et al., 2011). Athletic body image is based on your evaluation of your body as compared to another athlete or fitness professional. You may be working hard but if you are comparing your progress to someone else’s you can develop a negative body image. This will only cause you to continue to compare, continue to make you feel bad, and keep you from seeing all your hard work and feeling proud about that work. 

Your progress toward a healthier body is directly related to how you think about your body. For example if I see my thighs as big and fat then I will see my thighs as big and fat when I look at them.  All of this information is necessary to tell you the one thing you need to do to improve your body and make progress on your fitness and health goals. 

Simply change your thinking! 

Your work in the gym and your dedication to healthy eating is working but if you continue to judge your body you will not see this progress. As I shared above I have really struggled to accept my legs. Despite all my hard work I continued to judge my body and dislike my progress. There is power in thinking!  So I decided to hink differently about my legs. I decided to praise them. I choose to see the positive and remember that my legs are strong. I expressed thanks and gratitude that my legs help me move, walk, lift, run, and live a blessed life. This thinking shifted my attitude. Once all the negative thinking was out of the way I was able to see my body in a different way. I was able to see progress in my legs. I was able to see the muscle definition I had been working toward. I was able to embrace my legs and found excitement in the progress. 

Embrace the things you do not like about yourself. Honor, respect, and value your body. Identify your problem area and point out all that is great about it. Rather than criticize your body for what is disappointing, praise your body. Doing this will allow you to see the progress. Thinking more positively will help you learn to love and enjoy your body, flaws and all. 

Tell me, what is your favorite thing about the least favorite part of your body?  

Stephanie

References: 

Bruin, A. P., Oudejans, R., Bakker, F., & Woertman, L. (2011). Contextual body image and athletes’ disordered eating: The contribution of athletic body image to disordered eating in high performance women athletes. European Eating Disorders Review, 19(3), 201-215.