Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Salad: Mex-Mash-Up

At least once a week, we have Mexican food at our house. It's really probably more like 2 or 3 times a week, but who's counting?

It's really easy to make the kids tacos or nachos for dinner, and convert that into a taco salad for myself-- saving calories and fat grams by skipping the tortillas or chips.

That's exactly what I did for this week's featured salad.



2 c. salad greens
1/4 c. Chopped Tomato (8 calories)
1/4 c. Drained Black Beans (62 calories)
1/4 c. Seasoned, Browned Ground Turkey (130 calories)
1/4 c. Sliced Olives (43 calories)
1/4 c. Sliced or Chredded carrots (20 calories)
2 tbsp. Bolthouse Avocado Cilantro Dressing (40 calories)

For this salad, I used the same meat that the kids used on their nachos, so it has taco seasoning which adds some sodium, but not much in the way of calories. You'll want to let the meat cool a little bit before placing it on your greens so the lettuce doesn't wilt. This is also a great way to use leftover taco or burrito meat.

The dressing is a yogurt based dressing, so it's creamy, without the calories and fat grams of a creamy dressing. You'll find these in the refrigerated section of your produce department. I'm not a big fan of cilantro, but this dressing has a unique flavor that's not overwhelming, and not too spicy. Definitely give it a shot!

Just remember to keep the dressing on the side and dip your fork in it before harpooning some greens and fixings onto it-- you'll leave calories on the table that way.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

6 Ways to Succeed with Your Nutrition Goals

There are so many moments during any given day where we have to make choices about our health and wellness. Even NOT doing something is making a choice. I have a lot of head knowledge about health and fitness and diet-- I've actually taken nutrition classes and health classes. But putting that knowledge into practice? Not always easy.

It's all about the decision that's in front of you right now. This moment. When you're staring in the fridge because you're bored. When you mosey down the chips aisle at the grocery store. When a frappuccino is somehow screaming at you from down the street, calling your name in that sweet, sultry voice that it knows draws you in every time.

Here are 6 simple things you can do (and not do) to help you achieve your nutrition goals:

1. Get salad dressing on the side. In reality, most restaurants these days serve salad dressing on the side. But KEEP it on the side. I get a salad when I go to Moe's, a fresh-Mex quick food establishment. They hand you two little cups of salad dressing when you order a salad. Once upon a time, I would put the dressing ON the salad, and I would use both little cups. That's 300 calories per cup, 280 from fat. So what started out as a nutritious 450 calorie salad with 17 grams of fat, turns into a 1,050 calorie salad with 79 grams of fat. What the WHAT? Now, I keep the dressing on the side, and dip my fork into the dressing before loading it up with lettuce, chicken, and cucumbers, and only use half a serving. That's a HUGE cut in calories and fat, and I don't feel deprived.

Add some lemon to spruce up your H2O.
2. Drink water. Remember that scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts goes into the boutique that refused to serve her, and now she has all these mongo bags from hoity-toity other boutiques and lets them know they made a "Big mistake. HUGE mistake. Huge HUGE mistake!"? That's the image that should come into your mind every time you think about grabbing a soda instead of water. Do not skip water. Whether you're working out regularly or not, water has GOT to be your go-to drink. I cringe when I hear people say, "I just don't like water." If that's you, I'm gonna tell you what I tell my kids when they say they don't like something: You don't HAVE to like it. You just have to drink it. Do you like going to the gas station once a week to fill up your car's gas tank? Probably not. But you have to do it because your car needs it. Add some freshly squeezed lemon if you need to. Get a cute, new, reusable water bottleBut you're being counterproductive if you're watching your food intake and exercising, but aren't drinking water.

3. Keep track of what you eat. It's tedious, I know. But it WORKS. If you're trying to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you're eating. Even if you're not really exercising, simply understanding your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)-- the number of calories your bodies burns just to stay alive, will help you reach your goal. It works two ways for me: 1) It forces me to read labels and get a better understanding of the nutritional (or lack thereof) value in the food I'm eating; and 2) It discourages me from grazing because I do NOT want to waste time logging two cookies that I just nonchalantly would have otherwise grabbed and stuffed in my mouth without realizing that I was adding 140 calories of mostly fat to my hips. There are some great apps out there that make it easy to keep track of food. I use The Daily Burn, which is great because it also tracks nutritional content, not just calories. So if you're trying to eat a certain amount of protein because you're doing a lot of weight lifting, you can include those as target goals. I also use a fitbit, which keeps track of my calories burned, including my BMR, and then compares the calories I've burned with the calories eaten, so I can see my deficit. The fitbit has really changed the way I think about calories-- I highly recommend it.

4. Eat to maintain your ideal weight. This goes hand-in-hand with tracking what you eat. So, you know your BMR. for example, mine is 1,540-- that's how many calories my body needs just to live every day, right now, based on my current age, height, and weight. Using the same BMR calculator, I can go back and rerun the numbers based on the weight I WANT to be. My goal weight. That puts me at 1,360 calories a day. So THAT is my daily calorie target. Once I hit that ideal weight, it'll be easier to maintain, because I haven't really been "dieting"-- I simply adjusted my mindset about how I'll have to eat in order to maintain that weight, and made it a habit. That means I'm also giving myself a much greater chance of maintaining that weight long-term.

5. Plan to cheat. You know Saturday's coming. And you know you're going to want to eat a couple of slices of pizza and take the kids out for frozen yogurt. So bank those calories throughout the week. The average slice of pizza is around 280 calories. One slice off pizza for a meal is a pretty reasonable calorie intake for a meal, coupled with a salad and lots of water. For that extra slice and some frozen yogurt, you'll need to cut back about 75 calories a day during the week to stay under your calorie goal, or work in an extra 30-40 minutes of exercise. Remember-- your body keeps track of the calories even if you don't.

Oatmeal is a great way to get your metabolism running!
6. Eat. And Eat Early. This is one of those areas that's really hard for me because my day starts at 3:00 AM. I tell myself it's too early to eat, that if I eat so early, I'll wake up my metabolism and I'll end up overeating. The problem is that if I don't grab something to eat when I get my coffee, I'm not taking advantage of time when my metabolism could be working for me. Plus, I don't end up getting hungry until noon or so, so I go 7 hours without eating, which makes my body go into survival mode. This past two weeks I've changed that up, grabbing some instant oatmeal, a banana, or a yogurt first thing in the morning. Nothing big, right around 200 calories, just enough to get me going. You know what ends up happening? I get hungry. I'm ravenously hungry after just a couple of hours. You know why? MY METABOLISM IS WORKING! This is a new revelation for me, so my apologies for screaming. But seriously-- why do we complain when we feel hungry when we're eating right? Your metabolism is finally kicking into gear-- feed it with healthy stuff to keep it running!

If you keep doing the same things, you're going to keep getting the same results. It's a tired old quote, but when it comes to nutrition, it's really very true. So, make some small changes to the way you think about nutrition, and your fitness and weight loss goals will be easier to achieve.

Cheering for you!


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Freedom from Abuse: Trust Your Instincts.

Laury Abbott knew she needed to get away from her husband. In her heart, she knew-- she wasn't safe. Neither was her 8-year old son, Danny, Jr. She had told family members that she was concerned, and was planning to file for divorce from Daniel Abbott.

But before she could do that, before she could formulate an exit strategy to get herself and her son to safety, Daniel cut and stabbed his wife and young son to death. Then he stabbed himself. Three bodies were found in their Rainier, Washington home on Sunday night, June 7, 2015.

There were no prior convictions. The police had never been called. There was no gun used. But there had been abuse. Maybe not even physical abuse-- but Laury knew enough to know that he was capable of hurting her.

We were putting up the Christmas lights the day after Thanksgiving. I appreciated that he was helping-- usually I did it on my own. But he was helping, and I loved the scene that was playing out before me: the boys playing in the front yard, wanting to help, but not wanting to stop wriggling around long enough to actually be helpful.

He was untangling strings of lights, and I was trying to anticipate what he might need so he wouldn't grow impatient. Trying, but failing. He started in on me. "Can you just-- God you're an idiot!" The dam burst. There we were, in the front yard of our military quarters, just two months after moving in. I was embarrassed-- sure that the neighbors could hear and see him berating me. The boys became protective and surrounded me, hugging close to me legs, wrapping their arms around me. For that, he berated them, calling them mama's boys, and telling them to go play. But they lurked nearby, watching. Learning.

Ever since we had moved to Virginia, things had grown progressively worse. For the first four months we lived in a hotel. It was stressful, but no more than usual, as far as I was concerned. We then moved into a brand new, big house on Fort Lee in Virginia. As we unpacked our household goods, he unpacked his emotions, and left the mess for me to clean up.

There were several episodes that stick out in my mind as red flags during those few weeks. We were on the computer planning a summer vacation to Disney World. I was scrolling too slow, and too fast, a new insult coming with every move of the mouse. "Why don't you just do it?" I asked in exasperation. He pinched the back of my arm, hard. "Don't get out of line," he said, and continued giving me directions.

The week before that I had been to see a counselor-- with his blessing. He said I needed counseling-- to learn how to be an obedient and respectful wife. He was adamant that he not be brought up in these sessions-- the counseling was supposed to be about me, not him.

I shared my concerns with the counselor. Explained to her what had been happening in the past several months, the pinching episode, and several others, dating back about six months. The outbursts and little acts of physical abuse were growing more severe, more frequent. She validated my fears that I was not in a safe place. I had considered leaving some time after Christmas. It seemed mean to take the boys away from their dad before Christmas. But she said that might be too late. In her professional opinion, she said, I needed to leave at the first opportunity.

He left for a business trip about a week after Thanksgiving. I packed up my van with Rubbermaid totes full of clothes for the boys and I, a few mementos I didn't want to lose, and some toys. I bought some gift cards, knowing he would cut off the finances as soon as I was gone, and we left for my parents home in South Carolina.

He had told me a number of times that I could leave whenever I wanted, as long as I left the kids, my car keys, and my credit and debit card. We had once before had a "maybe we should try a trial separation" conversation. It didn't go well, and it ended with him manipulating me into believing that he was sorry for how he had behaved.

My heart aches for Laury. For the fear she lived with, for the uncertainty of what tomorrow would be bring. I can just imagine the guilt she harbored for feeling that her husband, a man she loved, was capable of hurting her, but not being able to shake the fear. I ache for a little boy who may have heard his mother's screams as she died, then saw the man who was supposed to protect him come at him with a knife.

It's the abusers who are fault for the abuse. But I wish and pray that more women would seek help and counseling and find someone to validate their fears so that there are fewer Laurys in the world.

If you're afraid of someone you love, please get help. If you believe that they're capable of hurting you-- trust your instincts and get out. If you don't have a place to go, there are shelters that will help you get on your feet. It's scary, I know-- I've been there. I've sat loading up my belongings wondering if I was doing the right thing, questioning myself. But now I look back and wonder why I stayed so long. Why did I put myself-- and my kids-- through that for so long?

Life on the other side of abuse isn't easy. I suffer from PTSD, and I'm a single parent and life is hard. But there is peace, even in the midst of the chaos of raising three boys on my own, there is so, so much peace.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

April Challenge: Walk & Water

 Every fitness journey has to have a starting point. If the idea of joining a gym or committing to a regular exercise regime makes you want to run to the nearest chocolate supply-- you're not alone. But I can tell you from experience that getting started really is half the battle.

So, for April, I'm issuing a Walk & Water challenge for those of us who wish we could do those painful plank and cringe-worthy core challenges, but just don't feel like it's possible.

This challenge is simple: walk more, drink more water. And be intentional about both.

Commit 20 to 45 minutes a day to walking. It doesn't have to all be done at once, but it's best if you spend at least 20 minutes doing aerobic activity in order to get the full benefit. You can walk a mile in 20 minutes, regardless of whether you're on a treadmill or making loops around your neighborhood. As you intentionally increase your mileage, you may want to do a mile in the morning, and then finish the rest of the day's scheduled miles after dinner, or on your lunch break. Stick with it, and you'll have walked more than miles by the end of the month. That's more than 2 marathons!

One of the best things you can do for your body is to drink water. Few of us drink the recommended 8 glasses of water a day, but we're going to work our way up to it this month. You don't have to drink plain water if you don't want to. Tossing in some fresh-squeezed lemon or lime can give your water a little extra flavor, and more fat-burning potential. There are also lots of products on the market that allow you to squeeze a little flavor into your water, which are often caffeine and calorie-free. These are great ways to help encourage you to drink more fluids. However, I encourage you to try drinking at least half of your water plain, with no flavoring. If you follow the plan, you'll have consumed more than 9 gallons of water by the end of the month.

Accountability is key! Check in once a week with your weekly walking and water totals, and for each comment left on the facebook page, you'll be entered to win a water bottle.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Salad & Smoothie Sunday: Fruit Poppin' Salad

There's no greater feeling than sitting at my desk at work and knowing that I have a healthy, satisfying salad in my lunch bag for when I get hungry. Making that happen Monday through Friday, however, requires some planning and preparation on Sunday.

To make the most of my salad prep time, I have a complete collection of salad containers that I use to prepare my lunches for the week. These containers are wonderful, and include a plastic fork and dressing container, that each attach to the lid of the
bowl. I've only been able to find these in stores in the summer, but you can also find them on Amazon.

This week's Salad and Smoothie Sunday salad is one of my favorites! You can really use just about any kind of fruit. The first time this salad was introduced to me was a friend's party, she had strawberries and mandarin oranges for the fruit, and honey roasted nuts for the crunch. I've switched the formula up many times, trying to increase the protein and decrease the sugars.

2 C. Salad Greens (I like to use a mix of lettuce and spinach)
4 oz. Cooked Chicken Breast (110 calories)
1/2 cup sliced, fresh Strawberries (25 calories)
1/2 cup fresh Blueberries (45 calories)
1 oz. cup Almonds (about 23 nuts, 160 calories)
2 Tbsp. Poppyseed Dressing

There are a lot of different poppyseed dressings out there. Some have a vinegar base, some have a cream base. Honestly, my favorite is the T. Marzetti brand, but at 150 calories, it's hard to justify. Of the lower calorie options, I generally go with Annie's Naturals Lite Poppyseed Dressing. It's a vinegar based dressing, and just 70 calories per serving.

The salad dressing can make or break your healthy entree, so
choose carefully!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015: A Year of Intention

This is the time of year when everyone asks if you have any New Year's Resolutions. Typically I have a few general ones, like losing weight, reading more, writing more. But this year, I'm going to set substantive goals for every area of my life. I'm going to walk boldly in the direction of my dreams by becoming a woman of intention.

This has been one of those buzz words the past few years: Intention. What does that mean?

It means a thing that is intended or planned. It means that you know where you want to go, and you walk in that direction with the intention of reaching a destination.

There's this balance that has to happen, however. You see, I used to be a woman of intention. But I was walking toward my plans, toward my goals, with little input from anyone else. Then I married a controlling and manipulative person who refused to let me think for myself, let alone permit me pursue my dreams. Once free from that, I started darting about like an uncaged bird, trying to figure out where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, now that I was finally free to fly.

I created this long list of things that I had wanted to do during my 15 years of captivity, and planned to do them all. Which is impossible-- especially as a single mom with limited resources of time and money. So I settled down, and I waited. It's was counter to my nature of seeing something I wanted and pursuing it until I got it. It was counter to that forced lifestyle of learning to squelch my own dreams and goals knowing they would be immediately squashed if I ever dared to verbalize them.

So many of the troubles in my life were the result of me trying to do things-- good things, noble things-- my way, instead of letting go of the reigns and allowing God to steer the ship. Over the course of the past four years, I have learned, somehow, to put into practice that old adage: Let Go, and Let God.

As I look back on the past four years, I can see so blatantly the hand of God moving in my and my children's lives as I sit and wait patiently for him to move through His perfect plan, fulfilling so many of my desires and dreams in ways I could never have imagined. Sometimes even bizarre ways that still befuddle and amaze me, but were clearly the hand of God protecting and teaching me.

This new year begins the fifth year that I've been on my own. And while those first few months had me darting about anxiously looking for a direction in which to fly, I'm finally at a place where I am whole, healthy, and at peace. I'm content that I'm where I'm supposed to be, but not content to just sit here without growing.

The new year will be the beginning of new intentions, of growing spiritually, of enriching personal relationships, of capitalizing on professional opportunities, and setting and achieving goals for my and my children's physical fitness.

What word are you using to guide you in 2015?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Five Fitness Tools for Your Home Gym

Pressed for time? No budget for a gym membership? Just plain loathe the idea of doing jumping jacks in front of skinny people? I can totally relate. All those machines and people with muscle tone can be intimidating. Sometimes it's easier to set up a little home gym with a few simple pieces of equipment to help you improve your fitness. You can get everything you need for under $100.

Yoga Ball ($15)
There are a lot of great uses for a yoga ball. You can use it to add core resistance to upper body exercises, for example. But one of the simplest uses for a yoga ball is for aerobic activity, especially if you have physical issues with your lower extremities and can't do typical cardio activities like aerobics like jogging or walking. Just sit on the ball and bounce! It's a quiet activity, you can do it while watching TV or reading, and you'll burn calories, while also building core and leg strength.

Sticky Mat ($20)
Whether you have carpeted, wood, or tile floors, a sticky mat or other padded workout mat is a must, in my opinion. Even if you don't do yoga, you will be doing stretches, and the mat makes it much more comfortable to do floor exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, or even some resistance moves. When I do head to the gym for fitness classes, I prefer to bring my own mat. I started out with a cheap mat, but the cheaper they are, the thinner they are. Splurge on a mat that is at least 5mm or 1/4in thick.

Resistance ($20)
You need resistance in order to break down muscle, because it's the rebuilding of muscle that increases strength and leads to those toned arms and legs we all dream of. You can buy some barbells, but they can be expensive, and you have to buy two of each weight, and it's just not cost-effective. I learned that lesson the hard way.

A better option is to use resistance bands. I prefer the tubes to the thin latex strips because they're more versatile. Anything you would think of doing with a traditional barbell, you can do with resistance bands-- and more. Biceps, triceps, deltoids, and all parts of the legs can be worked with the bands, and you won't bruise your toe if you accidentally bump into one in the middle of the night.

Weighted Jump Rope ($11)
Cardio work is a quick and easy way to burn calories, and we want to always try to multitask if we can. You can jump rope indoors, outdoors, or even in your garage-- it doesn't take up a lot of room, and it's something quiet you can do while the kids are napping. Five minute of jumping rope as a warm up or as a main cardio event will not only get your blood pumping and metabolism revving, it will also work to tone your arms and legs. Using a rope with, like the Valeo JRW1 1 lb. Weighted Jump Rope weighted handles add just a little resistance for the arms.

Exercise DVD (Price Varies)
I prefer DVDs that have short, 20-minutes or less workouts that really break down each exercise to make sure you're doing it right. Three of my favorites are Jillian Michaels' 30-day Shred, Shazzy Fitness A Time to Dance, and Yoga for Christians.

In 30-day Shred, the video includes three 20-minute workouts that you're supposed to do for 10 days each. You can really feel yourself getting stronger with each passing day as you do the workouts. Each session also includes a variety of intensity levels.

Shazzy Fitness videos are fun, and suitable for the whole family. It's hip-hop dance with Christian
music. The choreographer breaks down each move, then puts them all together in a short dance. My kids will even do this one with me. It's long enough that you will break a sweat and work toward toning your muscles, but not so long that you'll avoid doing it on a regular basis.

Another go-to workout DVD of mine is Yoga for Christians. Susan Bordenkircher wrote a book to accompany the DVD, acknowledging yoga's Eastern religious origins, while also emphasizing the overwhelming health benefits of including yoga in our fitness regime. I kid you not-- any time I have an ache or pain anywhere in my body, I pop in this dvd, and usually with just one session, a pain that I've lived with for weeks disappears almost immediately. This one will make you sweat.

I actually do enjoy going to the gym, but I'm in one of those seasons of life where it's just not gonna happen. Maybe you're there as well. There's a lot that you can do with just a few pieces of strategic equipment that will go a long way toward helping you achieve your fitness goals. And unlike a gym membership, once you buy it-- it's there, ready for you to use at any time of the day or night.

Is there a piece of home gym equipment that you can't live without?