Fitness and nutrition challenges: you tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine

No matter how devoted you are to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you probably still have fitness and nutrition challenges.

Foods that trip you up. Social settings that act as triggers to unhealthy food choices. People that are less than supportive of your workout schedule. Voices in your head that tell you to skip the gym and stay at home watching True Blood instead (don’t judge).

If you could just get a handle on that one little problem, everything would be great.

Want to know what my biggest fitness and nutrition challenges are?

I’ll tell if you will.

Fitness: Although I know that exercise can be done anytime, anywhere (goodness knows I’ve posted my share of shortat-home-in-your-hotel-room workouts), I somehow still feel that unless I go to the gym and spend 45-60 minutes lifting weights, I haven’t gotten a workout in. As a consequence of this mindset, I’ve passed up shorter (and probably more effective 😉 ) workouts just because I only had 20 minutes to spare.

With my recently increased workload (more clients and registered programs and writing opportunities, hooray!), I’ve got to start using those 20 minute windows if I’m going to keep making progress in the gym. In theory, it’s easy to do; my preferred mode of training is supersets and I can easily get in 3-4 sets of two exercises in the 15-20 minute window I often have between clients. In practice, it’s pretty difficult to change your mindset and just do it (especially when your mind has been set for a long time!).

Nutrition: In the past, my biggest nutritional challenge was sugar. I was completely addicted. With some very concentrated effort, I’ve been able to give up most forms of added sugar. I don’t buy (many) processed foods. I’ve switched to the darkest chocolate my palate can handle. And when I bake, I strive to make my muffins and cookies and bars as healthy as possible. Flax seed and chia and wheat germ are added to everything. (This is one of my many ploys for increasing the nutrient density of my children’s school lunches)

The problem? When I sit down for my mid-afternoon coffee, I crave something baked to go along with it. Even my healthy versions of baked treats have butter and wheat flour and brown sugar; all of which I try to avoid because they perpetuate the crave-consume-crash cycle.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me about your biggest fitness and nutrition challenges. What have you yet to master?

As always, I love to hear your thoughts; today, let’s try to help each other overcome our challenges by commenting and supporting and offering ideas for effecting change!





Monday Motivation: my favorite healthy living blogs

Welcome to Monday Motivation! Every Monday, I take a few minutes to talk about what motivates me to eat healthy and exercise daily.

Like many bloggers, I read a lot of blogs! These are just a few of the many competing for space on my Safari bookmarks menu.

Just a sampling of my Safari bookmarks bar...

Hearing what other bloggers are doing to stay fit and strong and seeing (most food bloggers have the strange habit of photographing much of what they eat!) the scrumptious looking meals they’re dining on, inspires me to work harder in the gym and the kitchen. I regularly pin‘ their workouts and recipes to try out myself when I need a new challenge.

Here’s a sampling of just a few of the healthy lifestyle bloggers I regularly look to for inspiration and motivation. Click on through and get to know them for yourself; I promise you won’t be disappointed! They’re all members of the FitFluential family and they rock my world!

Jody at Truth2BeingFit

Carla at MizFitOnline

Jess at BlondePonytail

Alexandra and Kymberly at Fun and Fit

Courtney at Sweet Tooth Sweet Life

and Lindsay at In Sweetness and In Health

What are some of your favorite healthy lifestyle blogs?

Does reading blogs about exercise and healthy eating motivate you to make better lifestyle choices?

Monday Motivation: What motivates you to exercise and eat well?

Perhaps one of the most common questions that I get asked by group fitness participants and personal training clients is about motivation.

Where do you find the motivation to get up every morning, pack your cooler and head to the gym?

When you didn’t sleep well the night before? When your husband is away for work? When your children are sick? When your legs are sore from yesterday’s workout? When your girlfriends invite you for coffee? When you’d rather go shoe shopping? When your workout clothes are all in the laundry?

When you just don’t feel like it?

Given the prevalence of challenges with motivation, I thought I’d start a weekly feature on the blog to help you all stay motivated with your exercise and healthy eating goals.

Welcome to the first instalment of Monday Motivation!

Each week, I’ll offer you a motivational tip. A photo, a quote, perhaps just a question for you to think about. A success story or a the results of a new study. There may be a recipe or a workout involved. And of course, I’d love to hear what motivates you! If you’d like to contribute a guest post, please contact me via Twitter (@fitknitchick_1) and we can set something up!

Now I know it may sound trite, but my primary motivation comes from my children.

My children motivate me to keep fit and fuel my body with healthy food. Why?

  • So I can keep up with them! I waited until I was in my 30’s to start a family. While that decision afforded me lots of time to travel and pursue my career, it meant that I would never be the youngest mom at the playground. My kids are active and I need to be active with them. Exercising gives me the energy to be a mom who moves!
  • To show them that exercise is a normal part of a healthy lifestyle. I don’t want my children to start exercising as adults. I don’t want them to think of it as a chore. I want them to revel in movement.
  • To ensure that they get the nourishment their growing muscles and brains need. Preparing healthy meals and snacks made primarily from whole foods teaches them that good nutrition doesn’t come out of a box. I want them to go off to university knowing how to feed themselves well and avoid the ‘freshman fifteen’.

Of course, my kids like treats too. But I avoid buying pre-packaged cookies and instead, make my own, from regular cookbooks, but subbing in healthier ingredients where possible.

Try these yummy sunflower seed butter and chocolate chip cookies. We did! (Recipe adapted from an old Canadian Living Desserts cookbook my grandmother gave me before I started to eat clean).

Sunbutter and chocolate chip cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sunflower butter (any unsweetened nut butter can be substituted; I use sunflower seed butter because we have a ‘no nuts’ policy at our school)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat bran
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (the darker the better!)
  1. Cream butters, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl.
  2. Beat in dry ingredients.
  3. Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Drop by tablespoon onto lightly greased or parchment lined cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes (or just underdone looking) at 375 degrees.
  6. Allow to cool for 5-10 min on cookie sheet before removing to wire cooling rack.

Although it slows down the process 😉 I invite my kids to bake with me as often as possible. It gives me the opportunity to talk to them about the ingredients we’re using and how those ingredients benefit their growing bodies!

Tell me what motivates you to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

A year in review; my favorite blog posts

One of the things I’ve come to love about blogging is how instantaneous creative expression can be. I can be struck with an idea while driving home from work and have a post written up and published within an hour of leaving my shoes at the front door. (Okay, sometimes it takes longer than an hour to get the wording just right and the photos uploaded, but it’s pretty quick, compared with say, writing a book!)

One of the things I don’t like about blogging, though, is how quickly those finely crafted words become last week’s post. Archived and all but invisible to new readers or those who haven’t visited in awhile. You can find them if you search, but most of us can’t be bothered.

I’ve now been blogging for a little over a year and in that time have managed to write upwards of one hundred and thirty posts! So many, that even I can’t remember what they’re all about.

Some were quick, newsy updates. Others were carefully thought out reviews of research papers, books and equipment. My favorites (and yours too, according to WordPress statistics), were those posts that touched on my own personal challenges and included details about my family life and my love of knitting.

Over the next week or so, as I take a break from work and blogging to spend time with family, I’ll be directing you to some of my favorite posts of 2011. (Of course, if the children start to drive me nuts, I’ll most surely drop by to tell you about it!)

I’ll start with these three;

  • thoughts about finding time to exercise (very appropriate for this time of the year); January 15, 2011
  • ideas about time management for fitness professionals (and other self-employed types); April 9, 2011
  • finding the balance between physical activity and creativity; July 15, 2011

Whether you’re reading them for the first time or revisiting a favorite of your own, enjoy! (And to be automatically notified when a new post is up, please subscribe to my blog; see sidebar, bottom right, ‘Email Subscriptions’).

Have a fit and fabulous holiday, from my family to yours!

Midterm report card; making good on intentions?

At the beginning of September I posted a list of my intentions for the month. Things that I wanted to work on and make time for. Goals that pertained to the four most important spheres of my life (in no particular order); fitness, food, family and home.

Well, September has come and gone. What of my intentions? Did I make good? Let’s see!

Fitness: attend 1 yoga class per week, lift weights twice per week

Fitness goals are always the easiest for me to achieve. It probably helps that I work in a fitness facility and am surrounded by people who are making time in their day for exercise (and making me feel guilty when I don’t 🙂 ). I made it to yoga class 6 times this month. A bit more frequently than I originally planned, partly because I found it so enjoyable (challenging too!), but also because my back injury kept me out of the weight room for about ten days and I needed something physical to do to preserve my sanity and help me sleep at night. I did miss a few weight training sessions, but expect to be back on track again this week.

Food: eliminate (once again) all added sugar in my diet, continue experimenting with home made, low sugar versions of my children’s favourite snack foods

Despite finding some great new (to me) clean eating websites (check out the sidebar to the right) and trying half a dozen new recipes, I am not any closer to finding healthy snacks that my children are willing to let replace their old favourites (which, by the way, they’re not getting any more!). I’m not giving up, though. Eventually, they will forget how good ‘rainbow chip’ granola bars taste and start appreciating my efforts. It’s all about re-training the taste buds. My own sweet tooth has been kept in check fairly well, with a few sugary splurges, including dessert night and my healthier version of a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. Always an on-going thing with me…

Family: spend 1-on-1 time with each of my three children, every single day (oh yes, this is meant to be positive interaction time, we have enough of the other…)

I am still struggling to make time during the day to sit down with each child, one on one, for some quality interaction time. I’ve always read to my children before bedtime, and has recently switched from reading storybooks to my youngest two (ages 7 and 9) to longer, more challenging chapter books. We are enjoying a good 30 minutes of reading each evening and this ‘slow down’ time has been good for all of us. (We recently finished ‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar). My oldest son started attending a gifted program at a new school this fall. The downside is, I have to drive him to and from school (we’re cross-boundary, so he can’t take the bus). The upside is, we have a good 30 minutes of interesting conversation every day. I know that he is enjoying it as much as I am. Now if only we could reduce the negative parent-child interactions… (is it only my children who enjoy fighting amongst themselves?)

Home: devote 30 minutes per day to house cleaning (rather than a whole, stressed out day once per month)

Well, I have managed to spend 30 minutes a day on house cleaning chores, however, it doesn’t seem to be making a dent in the state of household affairs. I mean, look at the state of my laundry room (I can’t believe I’m showing you a picture of this mess!).

Perhaps I could combine family time with house-cleaning time, teaching my children the art of taking care of the house while spending quality time with them? Do you think they’ll go for it? I can dream, can’t I?

October is going to be a juggling act for me; my hubby is having surgery on Friday and will be in hospital for approximately 10 days with another few weeks recovery at home before he’s back up to speed. I’m thinking that sticking with these intentions for another month is about all I can handle right now. That, and blogging regularly, of course…

Did September fly by for you too?

Any October goals you’d like to share?

Welcome to the ‘other side’; when nutrition and exercise become second nature

On every successful journey towards health and fitness, there seems to be a ‘switch point‘; that morning when you wake up and realize that you’ve been eating well and exercising regularly not because you have to but because you want to. You know longer equate eating with dieting. Exercise is like brushing your teeth; you just do it!

How can you tell when you’ve reached the other side? It’s simple;

  • You own more pairs of black spandex pants/capris/shorts than you do jeans

  • Shopping for new running shoes excites you more than shopping for dress shoes (Fluevogs being the exception)

  • You bypass all the cute clothing stores in the mall and head directly for Lulu
  • Your kids’ activities are planned around your favourite spin class time
  • You get together with your girlfriends over skinny lattes rather than cosmopolitans
  • When there’s not enough time in the day to workout, shower, wash and style your hair and get dressed to go on the field trip you choose the workout and once again show up at school (yet again) in damp exercise clothes, a dirty pony tail and a baseball cap

  • The seasonal return of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte sends you searching through Clean Eating magazine for a recipe for pumpkin pie oats (rather than ordering the high fat, high sugar coffee)
  • Your back-to-school shopping results in another Power Y tank (my absolute favourite workout top in a great new colour) rather than a cute top or cuddly sweater (‘you can’t wear those to the gym’, says the common sense voice in my head)

Happy ‘Talk Like A Pirate Day’ Friday Fitness Blog Hop (you scurvy dog, you!)

Life As I See It [Fitness, Health and Happiness]

Just breathe, she said; reflections of a yoga newbie

I live a fast paced life. Mornings in my house are a whirlwind. I can usually be found grabbing bites of my breakfast (overnight oats) while simultaneously unloading the dishwasher, feeding the cat, cooking my children’s morning meals (waffles for one, eggs and toast for the other two), packing their lunches (none of them like the same thing), organizing dinner (crockpots are lifesaving) and prepping for a group fitness class or a client.

Within less than two hours of waking up, I’m out the door, dropping a child or two at school before zipping off to work to teach a class (or two), train a client (or three), workout myself and make a quick dash to the grocery store before retracing my footsteps and reversing the morning drill (lunch boxes unpacked, planners scrutinized, forms signed, dinner served, homework supervised and children driven to evening activities and lessons). If I’m lucky, there’s time for knitting and reading (and blogging; feeling a bit guilty here…) before bedtime. (Sound familiar to any of you?!!)

I’m not complaining. I thrive when I’m busy and activity and variety energize me. But, although my body is always tired and ready for sleep, my mind frequently races late into the night. I need a way to quiet my mind so I’m rested and refreshed for the next day’s busy-ness.

Enter yoga.

As I mentioned last week, one of my September intentions is to begin a yoga practice. In addition to helping me find clarity, focus and a quiet(er) mind, I’m hoping it will also help with my self-admitted lack of flexibility. Killing two birds, as it were (although that’s probably not a very yoga-y way to put it…).

Rather than attend a class at the facility where I work (there are lots of yoga classes and great instructors there), I decided to join a studio where (almost) no one knows me as an instructor or personal trainer. Kula Yoga is close to work and home and came highly recommended by several friends. Plus, the first visit is (was) free!

My first class was a 75-minute Hatha practice. I arrived about 20 minutes early to fill out ‘new client’ forms and have a quick peek at the studio. It was bright and airy and had a wonderful view of the mountains.

I panicked every so slightly when shown where to leave my shoes (recall my insecurity about the state of my feet), but a quick look at all of the other less-than-beautiful feet made me feel a tad less self-conscious.

Heather, the instructor, introduced herself and checked in with me throughout the session to offer encouragement and correction (which I needed A LOT of). Her teaching style was welcoming and friendly and she even remembered my name (as an instructor I know how important and difficult it is to do this with each newcomer to your class…).

The focus of the class was breathing. Sounds simple enough. We do it thousands of times a day without giving it any thought. Why is it then, that when someone asks you to pay attention to your breath, if becomes awkward? First slowing down, then speeding up as, in a panic, you feel like you’re running out of air? I can honestly say that my thoughts did not stray from my breath for a single second of that class! No to-do lists. No class planning. No mental knitting (yes, I knit in my head; don’t ask).

Click for source

I rocked the balance poses (at last, some concrete evidence of all the functional strength training I’ve done over the years!). I sucked at downward dog and butterfly pose (tight hip flexors and hamstrings; no surprises there). I particularly enjoyed the quiet meditation at the end and think that I may have found a pose I can use to help me defeat my periodic middle-of-the-night insomnia. (Don’t know what it’s called, but learning any new language takes time…)

My second class was taught by Alissa (who recognized me from the days when she worked at our local pharmacy; so much for anonymity!). Hatha again, but very different in focus and feeling than the first class. Both soothing and energizing at the same time.

Click on photo for souce

Alissa spoke less about breathing (which I still tried to focus on, but found difficult to do without constant reminders :)) and more about the heart. Lifting the heart to the sky during lengthening poses (what a wonderful visual cue!). Feeling our energy moving from heart to fingertips as we inhaled and exhaled. (I didn’t see the blue light, but maybe next time?). I found the poses easier to move into with her clear explanations of where to place hands and feet (mine were often far from where they should have been…) and was amazed at what a challenging workout Hatha yoga could be. I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to try another of Alissa’s classes (which she tells me are different every time).

Very different from the fast-paced spinning classes and high energy weight room that I so love, but, I think, exactly what I need to balance out the rapid pace of the rest of my week. Yin and yang. Order and chaos. Yada, yada.

I’ve committed to (and paid for!) one class per week for the next 12 weeks. That’s one intention I don’t think I’ll have trouble fulfilling. As for my goal of spending 30 minutes a day cleaning house? A heck of a lot harder than bow pose! (slinking off to wash the floors now…).

Do you practice yoga?

What’s your favorite discipline?

Want to live a long and healthy life? Exercise like your ancestors!

The other day my husband left a research article for me on the kitchen counter (my ‘unofficial office’). This, in and of itself, is not unusual. He is a professor of evolutionary biology and spends much of his day searching through on-line data bases for new literature. He frequently stumbles upon things he thinks are relevant to my work. What was unusual above this article was the fact that I took the time to read it!

Scholarly articles are often dry, laborious reading, full of jargon that is impenetrable to the non-expert. I know this from personal experience, having spent 15 years of my life as an academic and being the author of more than 20 published (and jargon-laden) scientific articles! (Note that it’s only other specialists’ terminology that we refer to as ‘jargon’, our own is merely ‘technical’ or ‘specific’…)

This one was different. It was engaging and easy to read and focused on a topic near and dear to my heart; the relationship between lifestyle (exercise and nutrition) and health and longevity.

Exercise like a hunter-gatherer: a prescription for organic physical fitness. O’Keefe, J.H., Vogel, R., Lavie, C.J. And Cordain, L. 2011. Progress in Cardiovascular Disease 53:471-479.

The authors argue that many of the health concerns of modern human beings (including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, musculoskeletal disorders, sleep quality and immunodeficiency) are a direct result of current “daily physical activity patterns that are profoundly different from those for which we are genetically adapted”.

For nearly 85,000 generations, humans lived as hunter-gatherers. They expended a large number of calories each day while engaging in activities directly related to their survival; foraging, hunting, building and repairing shelters and confronting predators. Over the last 350 generations, humans have made dramatic ‘advances’, resulting in the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and more recently, the digital age. As life became physically easier, humans became more and more sedentary.

Estimates suggest that hunter-gatherers expended about five times as much energy per day as the average modern North American. Five times!

What types of physical activities did hunter-gathers engage in? Walking, jogging, sprinting, climbing, jumping, bending, digging and carrying. Women typically carried their children until they were about 4 years of age, often for long distances and for much of the day.

Their daily activities included short bouts of strenuous effort (lifting a heavy rock, pursuing wild game). They alternated high intensity days with less physically demanding ones (resting or remaining close to home after a big hunt). Spending much of their days outside, they obtained adequate sun exposure to stimulate their bodies to produce appropriate levels of vitamin D (vitamin D deficiency has been linked to cardiovascular disease).

Our ancestors were not only much more physically active than we are, they engaged in a wide variety of physical activities, including aerobic and anaerobic cardiovascular training and strength training, on a daily basis. Sounds like cross-training, doesn’t it?

The authors conclude that “natural selection shaped [humans] not to run marathons or exclusively lift extremely heavy weights but rather to survive and thrive as very active outdoor generalists in the wild…the cross-training… regimens that appear to be ideal for developing and maintaining fitness and general health…are similar to the lifestyle required of the typical hunter-gatherer”.

How can we apply these ideas to our modern lives? Clearly, we can’t go back to our hunter-gatherer days, but are there some ways we can incorporate their lifestyle into ours?

My daughter and I brainstormed and came up with the following;

  • Walk to the grocery store; buy only what you can carry home. Two moderately heavy grocery bags (cloth please!) will challenge your muscles and your heart.
  • Push your stroller; even better, carry your small child in a backpack or baby carrier. Think of this as progressive resistance training; you will get stronger as your body continually adapts to your ever-growing load.
  • Take the stairs, not the elevator. ‘Nuff said.
  • Ditch your remote control; get off the couch and change channels manually. (My children can’t believe that this is the way we used to do things…).
  • Hang your washing on the line to dry. Lots of bending, lifting and reaching to stretch and elongate your muscles. A little vitamin D won’t hurt either!
  • Leave a little earlier and walk your child to school. You’ll both be getting some exercise and the extra parent-child quality time is a wonderful bonus.
  • Make more of your meals from scratch. Washing, cutting, pounding, kneading and stirring use more energy than opening a box or can, or even worse, dialling the phone to order take out! Involve your children in meal preparation.

  • Plant, tend and harvest fruit and vegetables from your own garden. In addition to the physical effort required to grow your own food, you can be sure it’s pesticide and herbicide free.

Can you think of anything to add to our list?