Getting Through the Holidays with a Lot of Fitness and a Little Vanity

As we’re smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, I thought it would be a good idea to post about motivation. Different things motivate different people, but there are some commonalities in our ways of thinking. For example, I try to stay fit in order to stay healthy. Many people do the same, but others do it to get back to health or to impress someone (either with their physical ability or with their fit physique). Others don’t even think much about fitness per se, but they have physical goals that keep them in shape, such as climbing a mountain or running a marathon. But, in the holiday season especially, it’s easy to put anything that might be keeping us in shape on the back burner.

You might say “One month of unhealthy eating isn’t going to derail a year’s worth of fitness efforts.” Or, you might just put your goals on hold until the new year. Both are very common reasons why people allow themselves to gain weight over the holidays. But, if you really think about it, aren’t the holidays a time when you want to look your best? It’s a time when you see people you don’t get to see all year. Do you really want them thinking about how dull your hair looks, how drained you seem or that you’ve gained a few around the midsection? Probably not, right? You’ve worked so hard to look your best all year; why would you throw that away when it counts the most?

Allow yourself to be a little vain, and go ahead and think of it that way, too. By keeping hydrated and staying away from alcohol, you’re treating your body to increased oxygen, water and nutrients that you know it needs to look its best. By choosing broccoli over mashed potatoes and gravy, you’re avoiding carbs that will add to your midsection in favor of ones that will help contribute to a clear complexion and healthy, shiny hair. Don’t think of it as deprivation. Realize that you’re actually treating yourself by making healthy choices. Don’t be jealous of anyone else’s plate. Instead, feel sorry for them because they aren’t treating themselves to good nutrition. I’m certainly not suggesting you mock anyone’s food choices, but you should change your own mindset to focus on what you know will help you be at your best.

Thinking of the “bad” foods and beverages as toxic instead of tempting will not only get you through the holidays, but it can also boost your fitness efforts for the remainder of the year. If you can get through just one semester completely committed to your fitness goals, you might want to start thinking about a physical fitness teaching career. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but it is a good way to make sure you stay committed to fitness for the rest of your life.


Staying Fit This Thanksgiving

“We’ve got ANOTHER holiday to worry about. It seems Thanksgiving Day is upon us.” – Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Doesn’t it seem like even the best intentions to live a fit and healthy lifestyle get derailed during the holidays? I mean, even when you’re trying to be on your best behavior, you seem to gain a few pounds. It hardly seems fair. The truth of the matter is that when there is more food, we tend to eat more.

Another thing that works against us is that we also tend to eat more when we think we’re eating healthy foods. I guess it’s because we feel less guilty, so we go ahead and eat more. Unless you’re noshing on healthy veggies like spinach and kale, that can indeed add on some extra pounds.

To really stay fit, you’ve got to become good at seeing things for exactly what they are. As you walk into the dining room this Thanksgiving, imagine yourself as an FBI agent about to interrogate a room full of suspects (foods). Mentally “lock up” the bad ones and think of the good ones as upstanding citizens that you are free to interact with.

Here are a few more tips that can help keep you from packing on the pounds over the holiday season:

  • Portion Control – Use a dessert-sized plate for dinner. You can pack enough food on there to keep yourself full until dessert actually comes around. But, if you’re really hungry, you can go for seconds. The act of getting up to fill a second plate of food will make you realize how much you’re eating. Two dessert-sized plates are definitely better than two regular-sized plates.
  • Healthy Options – If you’re visiting a place where you know healthy options will be limited, make a healthy dish that you really enjoy and bring it along with you. Just be sure to make enough for everyone. This way, you’ll know you have at least one good option.
  • Staying Fit – If the weather is nice enough, encourage everyone to take a walk with you after dinner. It’s a great time to work off all that food before dessert comes around. If you don’t feel like walking, you may suggest a game of softball, basketball or touch football. If you don’t have enough space, you can always hop in the car and head over to the closest park.
  • Staying Hydrated – This may sound surprising, but people often mistake feelings of thirst for hunger. If you’re feeling hungry shortly after eating your Thanksgiving meal, try drinking some water instead of going straight for the snacks. If you’re still hungry after finishing that glass of water, then you know you’re feeling hunger. Have a small snack, but keep it healthy.




Beer Bellies and Fitness Do Not Go Hand-in-Hand

You’re kicking your butt trying to stay fit, working out at the gym, running laps around the track and playing tennis whenever you have the free time. But, what do you do after hours? Kick back with the fellas and throw back a few buds? Wrong answer! If you want to be fit, that is. Everyone knows that beer can lead to a beer belly, but it’s not just the unsightly accumulation of fat that hinders your healthful habits. A spare tire is not only an unattractive accessory, it is also an indicator of poor health and chronic disease. That fat deposit around the waist has been linked to diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. Have you ever seen anyone who seems otherwise fit, but has a very large (pregnant-looking) belly? Well, if they’re not pregnant, I call that a heart attack belly. Avoid it at all costs.

Avoiding the heart attack, sadly, means learning to limit beer and other alcoholic beverages. That’s not to say you can’t have a good time. You just have to learn how to drink in moderation.

Here are a few tips to help you get through your college years without sacrificing your health and body:

  1. Avoid binge drinking – One study found that it isn’t necessarily the amount of times you drink, but the quantity you drink in one sitting that makes you gain weight. So, instead of going out one night and having six drinks, go out two nights and have two beers each night. You can do even more for your health by going out those same two nights and only having one drink (or no drinks), but I think it’s important to set realistic goals. If you’re happy going out and not drinking at all, that’s your best option.
  2. Choose your drinks wisely – Researchers love to debate whether beer or wine is better for your health. Beer actually has more nutrients than wine, including many B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; but I think most experts agree that wine wins this showdown. Red wine contains a specific antioxidant called resveratrol that has been the subject of extensive health studies. It has been shown to reduce heart attack risk and lower cancer rates; but remember, that’s only when wine is consumed in moderation. Generally, wine also has more antioxidants per calorie, which can help keep your waist slim.
  3. Find activities that you can do with your friends that don’t involve drinking. Again, I’m not saying you can’t have fun, but you certainly don’t need to be drinking every night. And when you do drink, since it will be somewhat of a “treat,” you should feel comfortable drinking in moderation. When you’re not working out, you can plan a movie night (no drinks allowed at the theaters), go ice skating or bowling. By finding other things to do, you’ll be gently encouraging your friends to cut back on drinking also. Otherwise, if you become the police officer of beer drinking, your friends will likely just find ways to avoid hanging out with you. With a little gentle nudge in the right direction, you can have fun with your pals without feeling the need to involve alcohol all the time.

Fitness Through Mindful Eating

If you’re like many people, when you think of fitness, you think of exercise. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Sure, it’s a big piece, but there’s more to being fit than lifting weights. Before you can even get on that treadmill, your body needs to produce energy. The body uses the nutrients from food to do this. So, before you workout, yes, you need to eat. But what, when and how much you eat also plays a big role in whether or not you maintain that fit physique you’ve worked so hard to get.

What to Eat

Eating for fitness doesn’t have to mean calorie counting and complications. Really, all you need to know about what to eat can be summed up in three words: Eat Real Food. Sounds simple? Well, it is. But to be successful, you need to be able to identify real food. A potato is real food. A frozen bag of French fries with more than one or two ingredients is not real food. Anything that contains hydrogenated oils, artificial preservatives, colors or sweeteners is not real food. By the way, whenever you see hydrogenated oil listed as an ingredient, you can read it as “trans fat,” because that’s exactly what it is. Trans fats are considered the worst types of fat because they raise your bad cholesterol levels and lower your good cholesterol levels. But you don’t need to worry about any of that, as long as you just eat real food. Buy fresh produce and experiment with recipes. Avoid refined sugars (to processed to be real food), and opt for natural sweeteners like honey instead.

When to Eat

Again, this is a very simple concept. Eat when you are hungry. Many fitness experts disagree about how often you should be eating in a day. Some say to eat more to keep your metabolism going. Others believe you should give your digestive system a rest, time to detox from previous meals. I’m with the latter group. When it’s time to eat, your body will let you know. I believe we need to stop following fad diets and start listening to our own bodies.

How Much to Eat

Again, this is a simple concept. Buddhists call it ‘mindful eating.’ To understand the concept of mindful eating, think of it as the opposite as mindless eating. When it’s time to eat, remove all distractions. Don’t sit in front of the television with a tub of popcorn, or you’re likely to finish it all before you even realize it. You should be eating for nourishment, not for sport. Focus on your food, savor the taste, and eat until you’re full. There’s no need to measure portions, if you just listen to cues your body is giving.

Possibly the most important tip I can offer is to not let any of this stress you out. Stress can lead to hunger, which can lead to overeating. Sometimes life will get in the way. For example, if you’re learning how to become a chef or a baker, you might need to sample food when you’re not hungry or when you’re distracted, or you might even have to consume some refined sugar. It’s ok. Just try to be as mindful as possible during the other moments of your life.

Approaching Fitness One Step at a Time

For some people, fitness seems to come naturally. From the time they take their first steps, they seem to hit the ground running. They are constantly involved in group sports and hitting the gym whenever they don’t have a practice. There’s nothing wrong with this level of activity. In fact, it’s what our bodies were designed for. If you look at the lifestyle of our early ancestors, say in the ate Paleolithic era, you can see that our habits have changed quite a bit. Some might argue that this is the basis of evolution: we change. But saying something like that is like saying we, as a society, have a penchant for chronic disease. We sure seem to, but if we just got off the couch once in awhile, we’d feel and function a whole lot better.

Remember this as you’re walking from class to class: fitness isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. You don’t need to jump in with both feet. Just take those feet and move them every once in awhile. The more you exercise, the more natural it will feel to you. Start by purchasing a pedometer. You can get them pretty cheap at online retailers like Amazon or even Overstock. A pedometer counts the steps you take in a day. Experts suggest that we get at least 10 thousand steps in before our heads hit the pillow at night. This may sound like a lot, but you’d really be surprised at how many steps you take in a day without even realizing it. If you go to a large school, for example, you may take a few thousand steps just going from class to class. But, the purpose of getting a pedometer isn’t just to count the steps you’re already taking. It’s to motivate you to take more and more steps throughout the day.

Here are some suggestions for getting more steps in without feeling overburdened with exercise:

  • Take an mp3 player with you wherever you go. You’re more likely to want to keep walking while you’re listening to a great song.
  • Walk to school instead of taking a bus or car, if you live within two or three miles of campus.
  •  Get off the couch and pace around the house while you talk on the phone. Believe it or not, these extra steps count!
  •  Find a walking buddy and plan an evening stroll. This way, you can catch up with a friend while getting your exercise.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator whenever possible.

Once you reach your goal of 10 thousand steps per day, see how many more you can add until you max out. Of course, there’s only so much time in a day, and you spend every minute of it walking. For example, you can’t exactly walk around the room while your professor is lecturing (that only works when you take online classes). But, you can have some fun trying to figure out how active you really can be with minimal effort. I’d really love to know – what’s your walking limit?