Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sticking to Your Guns: Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Going

We’re just a few days away from the end of January, which means we’re nearly a month into those New Year’s resolutions so many of us made. Did you know that about 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions—and that just 8% of those people achieve them? That fact brings a juxtaposition of emotions for me—it’s wonderful that so many people are proactive at the beginning of each year, making goals for how they want to live their lives for the coming year. But it’s really, really sad to me that such a small number of people actually live up to those goals.

"People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them can ever imagine."
People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them can ever imagine.
Image: Celeste Chua / Flickr CC
I’ve personally focused a lot in the past year on making goals and sticking with them. And you know what? It’s a lot harder than it sounds. There is so much going on in our daily lives that it’s easy to forget what we set out to do in the first place. Oh, you wanted to lose weight? Here are ten billion birthday parties, all full of delicious cake, cocktails, and food.

The universe is a master of distraction.

But sometimes, the problem is the goal itself. We unwittingly make these unattainable, or worse yet, immeasurable goals. There’s a difference between aspirations and goals, though. “I want to lose weight” is too broad. “I want to lose 150 pounds” is probably unattainable (and also an unhealthy rate of weight loss).

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of the 8%.

So how do I do it? How can you do it, too? Here are some tips:

Keep it simple, attainable, and measurable. Come up with concrete goals that you can measure. Give yourself sets of smaller goals and regular check-ins. For example, give up soda for a month, then add on going to the gym once a week beginning in February, then in March make at least half your meals from scratch… and so on.

Go public. Shout your goal out. Tell friends and family, make a wall chart or vision board, or keep a personal journal to track progress. Don’t just make a goal in your head: write it down and tell others so they can help keep you accountable.

If you fall behind, don’t give up. We live in an imperfect world. If you fall behind, don’t abandon your goal—reassess. Can you still meet your overall goal? Did you overshoot it, slack off, or was the “speed bump” out of your control? It’s okay to adjust your goal if that means getting back on track.

Hold yourself accountable. It might sound childish, but it works. Give yourself small consequences for small mess-ups. Didn’t go to the gym on a morning you promised yourself you would? Take away your own morning coffee as a consequence. Drank a soda when you promised you wouldn’t? Go to the gym one extra day that week. You get the picture. Don’t make it painful, but do make it impactful.

Stay positive. If you’re always bashing on yourself, how can you expect to reach your goals? Give yourself consequences when due, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Learn from your mistakes and move on. This is the practice of life. If you fall down 100 times, get back up 101 times. And when you do a great job--don't forget to tell yourself how awesome you are!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This Is Your Body on Yoga

This is your body on yoga: relaxed, powerful, balanced, strong, and healthy.
This is your body on yoga: relaxed, powerful, balanced, strong, and healthy.
Image: Shutterstock
Remember those old scare tactics teachers and the media used to employ to convince kids never to smoke or do drugs? This is your body on drugs would show pictures of a brain lit up in just a few areas—a representation of the lack of activity some drugs would lead to. These are your lungs on nicotine would show blackened lungs side by side with healthy pink ones. Later, those scare tactics changed language, with campaigns like Meth: Not Even Once hitting billboards in areas where meth use was a problem. Being from one of those areas, I can remember cringing as we drove past the billboards every trip to and from college.

I never fell into the drug trap. Perhaps it’s partly attributed to those scare tactics, but I think it can mostly be attributed to my personal experiences surrounding drugs. Having a close family member suffer through serious drug use and then rehab leaves a permanent impression—or at least it did on me.

But as much as I respect those old campaigns and recognize how effective they can be, I would love to see positive versions of them: Crossfit: Not Just Once or This is your body on (insert exercise here). As humans, we seem to find a way to focus in on the negative so much that sometimes we forget the power of positive thinking.

I recently read an article from Women’s Health that explained some of the seriously cool things that happen to your body when you do yoga. Here are a few highlights from that article:

Practicing yoga
Practicing yoga is like practicing life: you fall down, you get
back up. You lose your balance, you find it again.
Breathing, which any yogi can tell you is a huge part of yoga, gets your brain really fired up. All those breathe ins and breathe outs activate your prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain responsible for higher-level thinking. You’ll also gain more control over your emotions as your amygdala relaxes and mood-enhancing chemicals are released.

Say bye-bye to stress, too: breathing, movement, and relaxation techniques are all used during yoga, which helps literally your entire body relax. Even your resting heart rate can decrease both during and after class.

Sometimes after I run or lift weights, I am seriously tempted to ruin it all with a big, greasy burger. But after yoga, that’s not the case. It turns out that all that relaxation cuts back on production of cortisol (a stress hormone), which has been linked to junk food cravings. So that’s why I always want a huge salad after class!

Practicing yoga regularly also amps up your immune system and slowly builds up your internal balance and strength as you stretch and tone muscles. The more I practice, the less clumsy I feel in real life—and the more graceful.

Be sure to check out the full article on Women’s Health here:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

When Counting Calories, Don’t Forget Everyday Activities

Playing with my sister's dog Stella for
half an hour could burn 126 calories.
I keep finding that life never changes the way I expect it to. For instance, when I finished college, I somehow expected working life to be less busy than school. In some ways, it is—I don’t usually have “homework” that has to be done after hours; but in other ways, it’s worse—there aren’t any summer breaks, and failing doesn’t just mean a bad grade, it means potentially losing your job.

I use the word efficient a lot. I need to be more efficient at work—so that I can get more done in less time and either go home early or prove my value as an employee. I need to be more efficient with chores and errands—so that I have more time to myself at night. I need to efficiently schedule in exercise—so that I actually exercise, instead of just planning to.

I am not always a huge fan of living this way, but as a young person trying to establish myself, it’s just the way things are right now. Maybe someday that will change, but I’m old enough now to realize that I’ll probably never get back to the leisurely pace of childhood (or the energy level of childhood).

I have a hard time not giving myself a guilt trip when I skip out on exercise because I just don’t have the energy for it—but the truth is, I shouldn’t feel quite as bad as I usually do. We burn calories simply existing. And I do a lot of activities that burn calories without even thinking about it—like walking to work on nice days and standing during meetings.

According to Babble, a 140-pound woman burns 34 calories per half hour of resting. On top of that, there are a lot of everyday activities that would help that same 140-pound woman burn even more calories and build muscle:

Washing Dishes. I do this A LOT. We don’t have a dishwasher, so dishes are a regular activity. 30 mins = 71 calories burned. Yes!

Housework. Think laundry, cleaning up after the kids (or in my case, the dog), etc. On average, 30 mins = 92 calories burned. Bam!

Showering. Remind me to take a nice long shower every time I don’t squeeze my exercise in. 30 mins = 134 calories burned. Yowza!

Playing with the kids (or, again, the dog). Of course running around the yard helps us burn up some calories—126 for every 30 minutes. Score!

Sex. It’d be silly not to mention this because, well, it’s definitely a kind of exercise. Having a good romp under the sheets (30 minutes of foreplay plus 30 minutes of sex) would burn 180 calories.

Now, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t be exercising on a regular basis—because we definitely should be. It’s just a reminder that sometimes, our bodies are actually working harder than we give them credit for.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

One More Reason for a Daily Cup O’ Joe

Coffee may help improve memory, in addition to a wide variety of other health benefits.
Coffee may help improve memory, in addition to a wide variety of other health benefits.
Image: Shutterstock
If you keep up with news, perhaps you’ll have heard this little tidbit: drinking coffee may be a boon to memory, according to a study out of Johns Hopkins University. You know how I love my coffee (one of the many reasons I love living in Seattle)—and now, I can love it even more.

Researchers showed study participants a series of images and then either gave participants 200 milligrams of caffeine or a placebo. Twenty-four hours later, the participants were asked to identify the images during a similar lineup. Those that had been given caffeine were better able to identify the images.

Caffeine has been the focus of many health and wellness studies. These studies have suggested that drinking coffee can have some incredible benefits:

Coffee can…
  • Raise our energy levels (duh)
  • Make us smarter
  • Help us burn fat
  • Improve physical performance
  • Give us several important nutrients
  • Lower our risk of Type II Diabetes
  • Protect us from Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • Lower our risk of Parkinson’s
  • Keep our liver from developing cirrhosis
  • Improve our mood and fight depression
  • Lower our risk of certain kinds of cancer
  • Reduce the risk of stroke
  • Improve longevity
  • Give us much-needed antioxidants
I never used to drink coffee, but over the years it became an acquired taste. It’s funny how our taste sometimes changes over the years. In this case, I’m so glad it did. I love my morning cup of coffee on taste along, but all these added benefits are great, too.

Are you a coffee drinker? What keeps you coming back to it every day?

Friday, January 17, 2014

How Do You Achieve a Work-Life Balance and Still Be Successful?

Earlier this week, I wrote about feeling overwhelmed lately at work and my decision to try and “uninstall stress.” Life can be hard, especially when you’re trying to cultivate a successful career. And as much as I would love to believe that things would get easier as time goes on (and some things would), the truth of the matter is that I don’t want to just stay where I am. I want to move up and be more successful through the years. That means a LOT of extra work on my part. That means that most likely, I will always have to battle stress—so I’d better get used to it.

"Jump in water over your head," advises  Keith Krach, DocuSign's CEO.  Image: Shutterstock
"Jump in water over your head," advises
Keith Krach, DocuSign's CEO.
Image: Shutterstock
The good news for me—and for anyone else in a similar situation—is that there are plenty of good examples to follow. I don’t believe that any one person will have all the answers I need (we’re all individuals with different needs and abilities), but I do believe that I can learn a little something from everyone.

I read a fantastic article the other day that really opened my eyes to just how differently high-powered individuals around the country handle their massive responsibilities. I’m not planning on becoming a CEO anytime soon, but there’s some great advice here. 

Moving up in my career always feels a little like almost drowning. I get completely inundated by new responsibilities and the pressure to perform kicks in. Usually that comes with a bit of panic, but it also kicks my determination drive up a notch. Keith Krach, DocuSign’s CEO, has some great advice that really hits home for me:

“Jump in water over your head. When you see an opportunity, take the risk and jump. It’s scary, and there will be times you’ll get burned, but the overall payoff can be tremendous,” he said in an interview with Fortune. I have found that living that way gets addictive. The rush of pushing yourself, betting on yourself, and learning from the good, bad, ugly, and epic cannot be matched—that, to me, is really living.”

In other words, you’ll never learn how to swim if you don’t go in water that’s a little too deep.

This next quote comes from Andrew Wilkinson, founder of MetaLab. And I have found it to be incredibly true over the past year:

“You don’t have to make yourself miserable to be successful. It’s natural to look back and mythologize the long nights and manic moments of genius, but success isn’t about working hard, it’s about working smart.”

One of the biggest things I see in myself and others is not taking the time to really look inside ourselves and figure out what we want, need, love, or hate. Marissa Mayer’s advice:
“Burnout is about resentment. [Preventing it is] about knowing yourself well enough to know what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful.”

An underlying theme I see in many top executives’ advice is this: work more efficiently, not just more. Find the easiest solution to a problem. Organize your work life in a way that allows you to get everything done while still being able to take time for play. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s also not impossible.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How Being Grateful Can Save Your Life

“I am grateful…” is a phrase that most of us could stand to say more often. In November, my Facebook news feed exploded with a number of friends’ status updates each day telling the world what they were grateful for. Topics ranged from significant others, children, and jobs to lazy afternoons, pets, and a good view from the front window. And while many rolled their eyes at this “forced” gratefulness, I embraced it. I loved seeing my loved ones actually take a moment to notice beauty in their lives. Because, let’s face it, it’s far too easy to get set on autopilot and forget about all the great things around us.
Start each day with a grateful heart
Start each day with a grateful heart -- words to live by.

And sometimes, it’s okay to force gratitude in ourselves. Not the angry “You must be grateful for this!” kind of gratitude—the reflecting on our lives and reminding ourselves of what’s good.

When I was down and out in college, my then-boyfriend used to say to me, “Tell me one good thing that happened to you today.” It was such a simple request, but truly profound. Because you know what? If I allowed myself a moment to think about it, I could always find good in a day—even if it was as simple a thing as a stranger smiling at me as I passed them on campus. 

Have you heard the recent stories going around about a woman named Lynne Scrivens? She is truly inspiring—and a wonderful example of how simply being grateful can save your life. Beginning on January 1st, 2013, Lynne vowed to post daily gratitude updates on her social media for one year.

Lynne felt she was off track in her life, and wanted to do something to resolve the challenges she was facing, including too much drinking alone, depression, being sedentary, and finding a romantic partner.

be grateful
Take notice; we have a lot to be grateful for.
“When I saw a friend posting daily Grateful status updates on Facebook, I though I should do it too,” she wrote in a recent essay on Daily Life. “I knew the grateful project would help me get back on track. I just had a feeling.”

Fast forward to one year (and a few weeks later), and Lynne’s challenges have turned into blessings: drinking was replaced by sobriety; depression faded and was replaced by happiness; instead of being sedentary, she started going to regular boot camp classes; and loneliness took a back seat to a new love interest. Plus, as a bonus, Lynne left an old and stagnant career behind in Sydney and moved to Melbourne for a new job.

Her last post was, as always, inspiring:

“I’m grateful for this project. I’m grateful for my friends for tolerating it. It’s amazing how long I spent each day thinking about what I was grateful for,” she wrote. “Did it make a difference? Yes. It forced me to look on the bright side of life, even on the crappy days… and I’m heading into 2014 with a great big smile, and for that I’m eternally grateful.”

So tell me, what is one thing you are grateful for today?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This Week, I'm Uninstalling Stress

It feels like lately I’ve been getting a little off track. Not physically, but mentally. I’m still going to yoga regularly, I’m still eating healthy, and I usually manage to get enough sleep at night. Yet, for the past few weeks I’ve been feeling a bit… off. Do you ever feel like that?

uninstall stress, eliminate stress
What if we could "uninstall" stress? Well, we sort of can.
Image: Shutterstock
This past weekend was sort of a bummer. Weekends are usually wonderful little pockets of relaxation and joy, but this weekend I didn’t feel like doing anything. I tried to think of things to do that sounded interesting or nice, but I couldn’t think of anything. Reading? Meh. Writing? Too much brainpower required. Going outside? Too cold. Watching a movie? Too sedentary. Being crafty? Requires too much creativity. The list went on… and on. I felt like such a Negative Nancy, but I just couldn’t figure out how to get out of my funk. Finally I just resolved myself to having a down sort of weekend.

Now it’s Tuesday, and I’m starting to get some of my usual enthusiasm back. And now that I am on the outside of that miserable state, I have a few ideas for what may have caused it—the primary of which is simply stress. I let myself get completely wound up at work following the holidays, and I think this weekend was just my body finally saying, Okay, that’s enough. Time to slow down now.

I don’t have a solution for when this happens in the future, but I do think I discovered a few things that will help keep me on track. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets knocked out by stress from time to time, so I’ll share here:
  1. Check in with yourself on a daily basis and see where your stress levels are at.
  2. If you are feeling more stressed than usual, figure out why. Take a few minutes to determine what the problem is—and then whether it’s passed the good stress – bad stress threshold.
  3. If it has passed that threshold (no shame), figure out what you can do to reduce it. Do you need help? Don’t be afraid to talk to a manager if you feel like you need additional support.
  4. Do you just need a good vent? If you do, schedule a time when you can talk to HR and let them know that you just need to get some things off your chest. This is especially helpful if the stress is being caused by a frustrating event/situation that you just need to power through.
  5. Make time for yourself. As tempting as it can be on a busy day, don’t skip lunch—and don’t eat while you continue to work. Our bodies need breaks. Try and take some time at home to detox before going back to work the next day.
  6. Perhaps most important is to remember to treat your body right. It does SO much hard work for you, so eat nutrient dense foods and avoid processed/fast foods, exercise regularly, and make sure you're getting enough rest. 
How do you all deal with stress as it comes? I’d love to hear some additional ideas, so please share in the comments below!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Amp Up Your Diet with These 15 Fruits and Veggies to Avoid the Flu This Season

Parsnips are rich in Vitamin C and one of my favorite winter soup ingredients!
Parsnips are rich in Vitamin C and one of my favorite winter soup ingredients!
Image: Shutterstock
I work in a small office, yet we’ve consistently had at least one person at a time semi-sick for the past few weeks. When I went home for the holidays, a few of my friends and family members were fighting off sickness, and when I got home, I could feel that winter chill trying to sink into my bones. It’s flu season, and I really don’t want to get it. Do you?

Luckily, I’ve thus far been able to stave off the coughs and chills, fevers and tummy aches. I used to always be the first to get sick, but these days it seems like my immune system is a lot stronger. My hypothesis is that my increased level of exercise and healthy eating over last year is at least partially responsible.

While stocking up on Vitamin C supplements can help if you feel a potential flu coming on, my opinion is that it’s best to approach the situation proactively. Give your body the nutrients it needs to be able to fight sickness as soon as it comes on, not just when you finally feel it. These fruits and veggies will give your immune system a much-needed boost and help you avoid the flu this season:
  1. Bananas – Vitamin B6
  2. Bell Peppers – Vitamin C
  3. Broccoli – Iron
  4. Cantaloupe – Vitamin A
  5. Carrots – Vitamin A
  6. Citrus – Vitamin C
  7. Green leafy vegetables – Vitamin C, folic acid
  8. Kale – Iron
  9. Mushrooms (certain varieties) – Vitamin D
  10. Papaya – Vitamin C
  11. Parsnip – Vitamin C
  12. Pumpkin – Vitamin A
  13. Spinach – Vitamin E 
  14. Squash – Vitamin A
  15. Sweet Potatoes – Vitamin A
Can’t find these veggies fresh? Don’t forget that most produce also comes in frozen varieties, which are usually preserved at peak ripeness. Just make sure that there is no added salt, sugar, or other ingredients. Frozen veggies are great for soups, stews, and stir-fry—all lovely, warm winter meals!

As much as I love eggnog, cookies, hot chocolate, and all those delicious comfort foods, they don’t really help my body out when sickness abounds. So, for now, I’m going to be re-adjusting from my holiday food binge and getting back to basics.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why Do I Feel Fat?

Dearest readers, there is something that’s been bothering me lately, and I’m not sure what to do about it. You see, as much positivity as I try to radiate to myself and to others, I’m finding that some negativity is still leaking its way through. As good as I feel about attending regular yoga classes and eating healthy (most of the time), I still find myself internally criticizing my body.

I look fat.
I need to lose weight.
I wish I had [flatter abs, smaller boobs, better arm muscles, etc.]

And at the back of my brain, a nagging voice that says things like

You’ll never get there.
She’s just prettier than you.

Jennifer Lawrence
I admire Jennifer Lawrence's outlook on body image.
Image: Jaguar PS /
Why do I keep thinking these things? I tell myself everyday that I am proud of the progress I’ve made and the active lifestyle I try to live. I tell myself to do the best I can but that if I am just too exhausted to go to yoga every once in a while, it’s ok. And I believe it is, I really do, but I keep finding myself feeling bad afterwards. I don’t like thinking things like You shouldn’t have eaten that cookie today or No more bread for awhile not because I want to be healthier, but because I feel fat. But I have to fight the urge to think them far more often than I'd like.

Why does this keep happening? Is it just me, or does this happen to any of you, too?

Many people would be quick to blame the media and the unhealthy body image it so often cultivates, and maybe that’s part of it for me. But, to be honest, I have way more envy of women like Jennifer Lawrence, who has been referred to a “fat actress” in Hollywood because she has a few curves. In other words, she’s not stick-thin and doesn’t torture herself out of food like many others. She's fit, but doesn't have the same obsession with eliminating every ounce of body fat from her body.

A while back, I watched an inspiring poetry slam entry from Lily Myers, who participated in the 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. She put into beautiful images what I think is really the root of the problem: accidental behavioral inheritance. We pick up the habits of those around us, whether we mean to or not. Myers talks about her mother in her piece, “Shrinking Women,” who seems to take up less space each time she goes home to see her:

“I never meant to replicate her, but spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits—that’s why women in my family have been shrinking for decades.”

After watching this video, I realized that I grew up this way, too. Show my mother any photo of herself, and no matter how beautiful she looks, she is never satisfied: she always says she looks fat. My sister does the same thing, pointing out “neck rolls” that I never even noticed and that are actually just natural folds of the skin.

Me, I’m stuck somewhere between where I want to be and what I learned to tell myself. No matter how many times my mother tells me I am beautiful, I still find myself struggling to truly internalize it because I have never heard her call herself beautiful. Some days, I believe what she tells me, but other days I wear baggy sweatshirts to cover up the imagined fatness.

So how do we end this circular cycle of viciousness against ourselves? I think it’s something that we’re going to have to work on for a long time. I’ve already promised myself that I won’t put myself down in front of my children. Because as much as I might think that what I say would only hurt me, it would hurt them, too, in the end.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gotta Respect the Muscles

Muscles: have 'em, understand 'em, respect 'em.
Image: Shutterstock
It’s time to get something straight: our bodies are extremely complex pieces of machinery. Even today, with all our technological advancements, scientific knowledge, and thousands of years’ worth of human experience, there’s still a lot we don’t know about how our bodies work. That’s why finding the “best diet” or “best workout” is always a hotly contested topic. The truth is, we don’t really know. We’ve got very educated guesses (AKA hypotheses), but there are still too many variables for speaking in absolutes.

Luckily, though, there’s also a lot that we do know about our bodies. Since we live in them, I think we often tend to forget just how amazing our bodies really are—I know I do. So, today’s post is dedicated to muscles—so that next time you flex, you can do so with a greater appreciation!


…help us burn more calories. Muscles take energy for our bodies to maintain. That means the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn just from existing.

…can be targeted during exercise. While you can’t target areas for fat loss, you can tone specific areas of the body—like the core, arms, and legs. Just remember this: good form is more effective for building muscles quickly than lifting heavier weights. So, be sure to recognize your limits and make sure you are doing exercises accurately to avoid injury and get stronger faster.

…remember movements. Muscle memory is a real thing, and that’s why when you are first getting back into exercising or change workouts you often feel sore. Once our muscles learn those movement patterns, soreness will lessen. But remember, if you take breaks from exercising, you’ll need to ease your way back into it.

… are mostly water. Up to 70 percent water, in fact. That puts “staying hydrated” in a new light—because if you don’t, your muscles suffer!

…make up 30-40% of our body weight on average. So, a person weighing 150 lbs could attribute as much as 60 lbs to muscle. Plus, bones weigh on average 14-20 percent of body weight—which in this example would be up to 30 lbs. Together, that equals out to 70 percent of our weight!