Holiday eating: A tale of two approaches

Holiday eating: A tale of two approaches

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Angela had just finished a round of Whole 30. She had diligently thrown out everything that wasn't on her approved list and only eaten items that were "clean," which sometimes meant having 5 pears at a meal just to satisfy her hunger and cravings. She had declined social events for fear of not following her plan and "falling off the wagon."

When perfectionism goes wrong

When perfectionism goes wrong

How many people can relate to this?  From my experience, a lot, and I bet you this picture was taken on a Sunday, because “my diet starts Monday,” right?  Sunday becomes time to eat all the “fun foods” so there’s nothing left to tempt you tomorrow, and with your head hung low you prep the kale and plain tilapia.  No wonder everyone hates Monday!  

What exactly does kaizen mean?

What’s in a name, anyways?  When I recently changed the name of my online personal training business from RyFit Coaching to Kaizen Health & Fitness, I got a lot of questions as to how to pronounce it and the significance behind the name.  Here’s my long overdue explanation.  

Kaizen is a Japanese word that when broken down in translation roughly means ‘good change.’  You pronounce the ‘kai’ as if you would the ‘ki’ in ‘kite’ followed by ‘zen’.

 

Image source

In the business world, kaizen means consistent, continual improvements.  I first learned about this word as I went through Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating program.  It was our team name and it reflected our efforts to improve our nutrition habits one at a time.  It’s a philosophy I’ve embraced in many aspects of my life because I emphatically believe that when consistently implemented, small changes over time add up to big results.  

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution and tried to change everything all at once starting January 1st?  You start getting up at 5am to hit the gym 3 days a week and pound the pavement for an early morning jog on the days in between.  You throw out all the junk food in your house and replace it with white fish and only green vegetables.  Your kitchen starts to look like Professor Sprout’s Herbology class and half of it's kale, which you despise but choke down because if it makes it onto Bey’s sweatshirt, it’s got to be THE WAY, right?  

 

Image source

You swear you’ll stop drinking your favorite sugar rimmed margaritas and quit scooping Ben and Jerry’s while you catch up on The Walking Dead...until you can’t hold it together anymore when THAT DAY arrives.  That day when you wake up to achy knees and skip your run.  That day when your best friend texts you and wants to meet up for drinks.  That day when you wake up after a late night taking care of a sick kiddo and hit the snooze button instead of lacing up your gym sneakers. That day when you’re so sick of kale smoothies that you buy three pints of Ben and Jerry’s instead of your usual one and nestle into the couch for an epic Harry Potter TV marathon.

Because trying to change EVERYTHING at once amidst our busy lives becomes overwhelming. Because when we try to adopt three or more new habits at a time, our success rate plummets by over 75% as opposed to just changing one thing at a time and getting really good at it. When we focus on one thing, we’re less overwhelmed and anxious with our new action.  We can learn how to navigate tricky situations more easily without feeling the need to throw in the towel because it all just seems too hard to maintain.  

This approach is the same one I use myself and with my clients.  Most of my clients have full-time jobs, social obligations, children/grandchildren, community activities or family commitments.  They don’t have time to remodel their entire lives all at once, so we take it slow like a 90's R&B song and build on their successes, one at a time.  

Instead of choosing a name for my business that showcases me, I chose a name that embodies my approach: consistent, continual improvement.  Next post I'll dive into why I believe strongly in focusing on progress, not perfection. 

Where will you be one year from now?

A lot can change in one year. I can tell you from experience. At the age of fifteen I was diagnosed with a common hormonal disorder called PCOS. PCOS, which is often associated with being overweight or obese, is affected by stress, diet and exercise.

Less than a year after my son was born and during my divorce (picture on left), I was Spinning 3-4x a week and strength training 1-2x a week, but I wasn't addressing the diet or stress aspect that can help manage PCOS in an effective manner. Even though I was exercising frequently and regularly, my body wasn't visibly changing because I wasn't addressing these other two hugely important pillars of health. 

I decided that I needed to invest in myself and signed up for Precision Nutrition's Lean Eating program. I needed my own coach, a cheerleader to encourage me and guide me to a place I couldn't get to easily on my own: a place of balance, confidence and mindfulness. It was through that program I learned how to eat to lose fat, maintain my sanity and be mindful of how different foods and situations affected me personally. I became aware of self-sabotaging thoughts and maladaptive habits. It gave me the freedom to mindfully choose my path instead of feeling like I was following arbitrary and restrictive food rules.

It's my great pleasure to share with you the tools, skills and habits I learned that have helped me and my clients transform not only our bodies, but our minds as well through my new habit based Total Lifestyle Transformation group coaching program fueled by Precision Nutrition's ProCoach software. 

If you're looking for lasting change, a supportive environment, and daily action and accountability so that you can achieve and maintain a more balanced approach to health and nutrition, this program is for you. Enrollment opens up on Wednesday, June 28th 2017.

Don't miss out on the special introductory offer of $99/month for nutrition and lifestyle coaching or $149/month for nutrition, lifestyle and exercise coaching. Please reach out to me with any questions!

A lot can change in one year

I can tell you from experience. Not long after I had my incredible son, in the midst of a divorce, I was feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. My body was a reflection of the exhaustion, grief, and turmoil I was swirling in. Food had become a coping mechanism for me leading up to the divorce, and I battled the feelings of guilt that stemmed from this approach. Often times my response to this guilt was to tighten up even more with my eating, to really "stay on the wagon" and "be good," but that never seemed to work and only left me more frustrated.

What I needed wasn't more eating rules and restrictions. What I needed was great awareness, compassion and understanding towards myself along with a new set of habits and skills to deal with emotional situations. When you get to the root of the issue, that's where lasting change happens.

It's my great pleasure to share with you the tools, skills, and habits I learned that have helped me and my clients transform not only our bodies but our minds as well through my new habit based Total Lifestyle Transformation group coaching program.

If you're looking for lasting change, a supportive environment, and daily action and accountability so that you can achieve and maintain a more balanced approach to health and nutrition, this program is for you. Enrollment opens Wednesday, December 27th, 2017. Program officially starts on Monday January 1st. 

Don't miss out on the special introductory offer of $99/month for nutrition and lifestyle coaching or $149/month for nutrition, lifestyle and exercise coaching. One year from today, where could you be?

Women: Don't be Afraid to Lift Weights

Originally Featured on Boston.com: 9/12/2012

As a female and a certified personal trainer, I hear quite often the misnomer that women, if we're going to strength train at all, should stick to light weights and high repetitions for fear of bulking up and looking manly. Fear not my female friends; you will not start spontaneously growing muscular boulders on your arms and bursting the seams of your shirts! Although we can increase our muscle mass, adding on significant amounts of muscle is a truly challenging feat for most males, never mind females, and requires serious dedication and manipulation of exercise and nutrition. It certainly doesn't happen by accident. Males also have about 10 to 30 times the testosterone in their bodies, which creates a much more conducive environment for muscle growth. Plain and simple, we just don't have the hormonal makeup to potentially look like The Hulk. Strength training does, however, have countless benefits for females.

If fat loss or creating a more defined physique is your goal, strength training is the essential exercise mode for your success. Not only does each session torch calories, but it helps boost your metabolism in two different ways. Women will build a small amount of muscle mass with consistent resistance training, which helps to create that defined look, but it also increases something called your basal metabolic rate, or the number of calories you burn per day when completely at rest. The second means in which metabolism is increased is through something called EPOC, or excess postexercise oxygen consumption. After a challenging strength training session your body burns calories at an accelerated rate for up to 48 hours after. Add 2-3 sessions a week to your routine and you are now a fat burning machine!

Strength training is also hugely important for females because it can help increase bone density, reduce chance of injury, improve balance and ranges of motion, stop age related muscle loss, make everyday activities seem easier, and leave you feeling empowered and strong.

As a woman and a mother, I'm constantly picking up my 25 lb son or 20 lb grocery bags, and on some days my purse alone weighs 10 lbs. There's no reason to think we must stick to the small 3 lb pink dumbbells or the treadmills only. We can, and should, lift weights or use resistance that is greater than what we're accustomed to in order to stimulate change in the body, and reap all the benefits mentioned above. Now is the time; let's get strength training ladies!

For more tips see the book 'The Female Body Breakthrough' by Rachel Cosgrove, B.S. CSCS

5 Common Workout Mistakes

Originally Featured on Boston.com: 10/17/2012

Working at a large YMCA with more than 14,000 members, I see a lot of dedicated, consistent exercisers and weekend warriors. For most people, unless you continually educate yourself on how to properly train for your goals, it can be hard to know if what you're doing is correct or effective. Here are five common errors that I see a lot of people making in the gym and suggestions on how to rectify them.

1. Not having a plan: Developing a prearranged but flexible fitness plan can help prevent aimless wandering and wasted time. Having a plan of attack beforehand can also help enhance motivation, efficiency, and focus. You know what you have to do that day to get the job done.

Suggestions: If you don't have the appropriate fitness knowledge to create your own routine, here are two alternatives. Hiring an educated certified personal trainer to either work with you on a weekly basis or to create an individualized program you can do independently is always a great option. A more affordable choice would be a book, such as The New Rules of Lifting for Life that both educates readers on the basics of a fitness program and also offers a template allowing you to create your own balanced routine for years to come.

2. Limiting your tools: There are a lot of great pieces of exercise equipment, and every year there are more new toys to pick from. Stability balls, kettlebells, medicine balls, ropes, TRX trainers, and BOSU balls all come to mind. The mistake lies in limiting yourself and only training with just one of those. Sometimes people become hooked on "the next best thing" and forget all the other useful tools and exercises that are also in their arsenal.

Suggestions: Pick exercises based on equipment available, appropriateness for your capabilities, and the goals you're working towards. Variety is beneficial, but know why you're using each tool as well.

3. Sticking to the same routine: For some there is comfort in the familiar. Using the same pieces of cardiovascular equipment or performing the same exercises, reps, sets, at the same weight can feel safe. The problem with this is that the body needs new and greater imposed demands to continue making progress. If you're dedicating the time to train, you want to be seeing some benefits right?

Suggestions: Shake things up! If you're someone who always uses the treadmill, try a stair climber or bike. When weight lifting, try increasing the resistance in small amounts and changing the sets, reps, and exercises. Maybe even pop into a group exercise class you've never tried before. The possibilities are endless!

4. Disregarding proper form: While there's definitely a learning curve when perfecting technique on new exercises, too often I see people imitating other exercises (with improper form) they see done in the gym or completely forgoing proper technique in order to lift more weight or do more repetitions. Either scenario can easily lead to exercise inefficiency or injury.

Suggestions: To keep your body healthy and reduce your risk of injuries, remember that form comes first before weight or repetitions. If you're unsure of proper form on an exercise, try looking online at a reputable website such as ACE's exercise library or hiring a qualified personal trainer.

5. Neglecting mobility and flexibility: If you're one of the many that has a sedentary job, long commute, or goes to school then chances are you're doing a lot of sitting and have some tight muscle groups and maybe even limited range of motion at certain joints. Things like foam rolling, static/dynamic stretching, and mobility exercises can easily be incorporated into a workout program to help keep you pain-free and moving well.

Suggestions:Try incorporating foam rolling and stretching into your routine, along with some warm-up exercises that will help enhance the way you move.

Spartan Sprinting

Originally Featured on Boston.com: 8/14/2013

This past Sunday marked a momentous occasion -- my second Spartan obstacle race. Last year my first was through Fenway Park, an incredible and remarkable way to begin obstacle racing, and this time I was off with my team to Amesbury Sports Park. This race, despite many similar obstacles I'd faced before, would be much different because of one factor: mud!

It was with us at the start line squishing under our shoes, it was beneath the barbed wire we rolled and crawled under, filled the pits underneath the ropes we climbed, covered the hills we scrambled up and slid down, coated the monkey bars, and swirled through the trenches between the dirt moguls like a chocolate bath.

With no other option than to accept and embrace it, we got down and dirty and had some filthy fun! We ran trails, climbed over, under, and across countless walls, threw spears, faced our fear of heights while walking the plank, dragged tires and concrete blocks, climbed up and down the unforgiving hill with sandbags on our shoulders, jumped over hay stacks, and leapt over fire. I dare you not to feel invincible and hard core after successfully completing one of these races!

Throughout both my Spartan races, I was stuck with a sense of appreciation and wonderment over what my body is capable of doing. Not because I'm the fastest or strongest in any way, but because despite my injuries and imperfections, I can climb, jump, swing, pull, crawl, sprint, swim, drag, claw, and clobber my way to the finish line. Things I haven't always been able to do with such intensity and strength as I have now. I try to point this feeling out frequently to my clients. Fitness isn't only about your body fat percent or the number on the scale, a trap that many people fall into. Ask yourself, what can your body do now that it couldn't do before? Are you stronger, faster, or more powerful? Can you climb stairs more easily? Carry the heavy grocery bags with ease? Keep up with your children? Make sure to appreciate these signs of progress and change as well.

Though my favorite part of these races isn't personal glory or approbation, it's the camaraderie between everyone. It's people of all different, shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities competing in the same race, helping one another out, and leaving no one behind. Can't get over the wall yourself? There's someone on the other side to grab your hand, there's someone behind you to give you a boost, and there are ten people waiting in line cheering you on by name and telling you that you CAN do it, even if you're shouting in fear that you can't. The people around you help you persevere and succeed, and at the next obstacle, you pay it forward and help someone else out. I's one of the greatest feelings in the world. That's what it's all about for me.

If you're interested in trying one of these events, join me at the Spartan Fenway Time Trial again this year!

    5 Moves for Better Posture

     

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 8/7/2013

    Poor posture is plaguing this country as sedentary jobs become more commonplace. I see it everywhere I go. Spotting someone with great posture is pretty rare these days. It's not only aesthetically displeasing and makes you look heavier, but more importantly it can lead to structural dysfunctions, joint pain, weak muscles, and reduced flexibility. So what's a desk jockey to do?

    Do a quick scan of your body right now. Are your head and neck jutting forward? Are you shoulders slumped and rounded? Is the top of your back rounded? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might benefit from the following five moves that can help improve your posture. Many of these are great to add to a warm-up, or to add as filler exercises between sets of heavier exercises like squats, chin-ups, bench press, etc when you would otherwise be resting. It's also worth mentioning that these exercises won't make much of a difference if you return to the couch, computer, desk, or bed the other 23 hours of the day and your posture goes right back to rounded shoulders and a sliding foreword head position. If you work on proper desk biomechanics. and give these moves a try you might just start to sit up straight and carry yourself proudly.

    Side Lying Windmill

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Thoracic Extensions on the Foam Roller

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Scapular Wall Slides

     

     

     

     

     

    If you can't keep your head, upper back, and bottom against the wall with elbows and wrists in contact throughout the movement, try this alternative version.

    Seated Rows

    Initiate the movement by pulling the shoulders back and down. Keep a nice proud chest, and pull the elbows back while squeezing the shoulder blades.

    Perpendicular Landmine Row

    Keep a neutral spine, send your hips back behind you, and trying not to look at your knees. Pretend like you're taking a punch to your stomach to brace the abs as you pull the elbow up. Using smaller weights on this exercise helps because the larger sized weights tend to limit the range of motion of the exercise. For variety there's also this one here you can try as well.

    Thanks to Ben Bruno, Rick Kaselj, and my friends at Cressey Performance for these great videos.

    Is your Trainer Impactful?

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 6/12/2013

    I was fortunate enough this past weekend to attend the Perform Better Functional Training Summit in Rhode Island. To say I was excited would be a vast understatement. It felt like Christmas morning to me as I waited in the registration line, about to start a profound and significant day. It's one of the best fitness conferences to learn and grow from as a trainer, coach, physical therapist, or other health professional. I attended lectures by the renowned Mike Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove, Charlie Weingroff, and Martin Rooney among many great others, and even got to hear Dick Vermeil give a remarkably inspirational speech.

    One of the great concepts I believe in, and that was mentioned many times over the three days by several different presenters, is that a personal trainer or coach should be much more than someone who makes you sweat and barks orders at you. 

    Dick Vermeil said in his speech, "There is a big difference between making an impression on somebody, and making an impact on somebody." Martin Rooney asked the question, "Anybody can make you tired, but can they make you better?" Do they make you leaner, stronger, powerful, faster, or more confident?

    It's easy to make someone exercise so hard that they throw up, until they drop from exhaustion, or so they can't walk down stairs the next day. It doesn't take talent or skill to do that, and isn't exactly an admirable or intelligent training goal. However, what does require expertise is designing a progressive, safe, and effective exercise program, not just random workouts, that work towards your goals and leave you feeling good about yourself. Exercises should be selected based on YOUR skill level, and not just what's new or looks cool. Training sessions, although challenging, should feel empowering too instead of feeling like a torture session that leaves you incapacitated or injured. 

    A great trainer will see in you qualities and abilities you may not see in yourself, or don't know how to bring out in yourself. They'll help you build strength, resilience, courage, pride, confidence, and mental toughness. With enough time and dedication, you'll be accomplishing things you never thought you could. 

    The next time you're seeking to find a personal trainer, coach, or exercise program, do a little research and find out how they operate. Not only should you look at education and credentials, but also ask about their philosophies on training and fitness. What do their clients have to say about them? Can they get you results? Do they lead by example? Do you trust them? Are they encouraging? Ask these questions to find the right trainer. Once you do, you just might start believing in yourself in ways you never have before, and when you believe in yourself, it's amazing what you can accomplish. 

    Should You Push Through the Pain?

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 6/19/2013

    Q. What should I do when I feel pain while exercising?

    A. The first thing we want to establish is if the pain is simply muscle soreness as a result of exercising, muscle fatigue or discomfort that occurs while exercising, or if it's sharp pain that developed while exercising or shortly after. Muscle soreness, or DOMS, should start to subside after about 72 hours. Muscular fatigue will occur during exercise and is the result of overloading the muscles, and will feel uncomfortable. If the pain is sharp and remains after four days, it could be an injury that's worth a visit to the doctor.

    Exercise will certainly bring on fatigue and muscular discomfort, but it shouldn't bring about sharp pain. If it does, that could indicate that you're not ready for that exercise, that form needs to be corrected, or that you had an underlying issue brought out by that exercise. Pain is your body's signal to you that something you're doing isn't right. Listen to it!

    Even if your doctor does diagnose you with an injury, there are still numerous ways to work around that injury and stay active. I've had countless clients that have signed up for personal training after joint surgery and with creativity and a detailed assessment; I worked around their injury to get them stronger, leaner, and feeling better. If you're unsure of what alternatives you can do to certain painful exercises, a good personal trainer can help with that. Bench press hurts your shoulder? Well there are plenty of other horizontal pressing movements to pick from that a trainer could help you tease through to see what works, or maybe address a few key points in your technique that will change how you feel. 

    Making Time for Exercise

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 7/10/2013

    Every time I meet with a client, I ask them if they've exercised regularly before. To those who say yes but aren't currently active, I follow up with, "What made you stop?" Nine times out of ten the answer is "I didn't have enough time" or "I was too busy".

    The truth in this day and age is that most of us are juggling hectic schedules that can be stressful and overwhelming. However, stress management is one of the many benefits of exercise! Squeezing in a 20 minute workout 3x a week can leave you feeling better about yourself and ready to tackle your busy day.

    Another key point to remember is that it's not all or nothing. Get rid of the perfectionist mentality. Just because you can't fit in 3 to 5 hours a week at the gym doesn't mean you shouldn't bother trying at all. Something is better than nothing!

    Here are a few of my tips on how to fit exercise into your weekly routine.

    1. Write it on your calendar.

    By putting exercise into your weekly schedule you'll be more likely to commit to those workout sessions and build your days around them. If you don't plan out your workouts, they tend to get put on the back burner or left until the end of the day when you're tired and less motivated. Make them a priority by giving them specific days and time frames to ensure success!

    2. Have a home and travel workout routine.

    There are going to be days when it's hard to get to the gym to exercise or times when you're traveling without access to fitness equipment. Plan for them! Write out an exercise routine that utilizes bodyweight exercises or equipment you have in your home. 

    Resistance bands are great for these situations because they're so lightweight and easy to store. Having a plan ahead of time will eliminate excuses later on.

    3. Stay active with family and friends.

    Instead of meeting your friends for coffee or a drink, try going for a walk, taking a group exercise class, or playing a sport together. Not only will you be able to catch up but you'll have a chance to bond over a common activity and support one another.

    The same goes for family. Plan weekly physical activities everyone can enjoy and you'll be setting a great example for your kids while staying active.

    The hot summer weather is here, why not try stand up paddle boarding, surfing, boogie boarding, tennis, volleyball, or kayaking. If you want to stay cool indoors, try squash, racquetball, rock climbing, and roller skating at a rink, or swimming at an indoor pool.

    4. Walk or bike for transportation. 

    Walk or bike to your destination instead of drive and you'll be sneaking in exercise and doing the environment a solid. Exercise time can really add up too when you park farther away from your destination and choose the stairs over the elevator.

    5. Step away from the screens.

    It's no doubt that computers, phones, and televisions are now an integral part of our lives. However, time spent browsing social media sites or watching television can easily add up to hours each day. Cutting back a bit on daily screen time is another easy way to carve out time for exercise. 

    How do you make time to exercise?

    Can you Spot Reduce Belly Fat?

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 7/3/2013

    Q. Can you spot reduce body fat?

    A. One of the most common things clients or friends ask me is for exercises that work their (insert body part they think is too large here) so that they can slim that area down. If only it were that easy! If it were, the exercise products they sell on infomercials would be much more successful (you want me to shake what?).

    Just like we can't pick where we gain weight, we can't pick where we lose it from either. Erik Ledin, NSCA-CSCS and certified sports nutritionist, said it best when he said, "Trying to burn fat from a specific area of the body is like attempting to burn fuel exclusively from the upper left corner of your gas tank."

    So what can you do instead of those 100 crunches every night to start losing abdominal fat? In order for any fat loss to occur, you need to be eating and exercising in a way that creates a caloric deficit in your body. In other words, you need to burn more calories than you consume. When in combination, eating a little less, and exercising a little more, really do create big changes.

    Your nutrition and exercise plan should also be maintainable so that you can be consistent. A mediocre plan followed consistently is much better than the perfect plan followed for only a week. To achieve this, it helps to find activities you enjoy doing! You'll be more likely to make exercise a regular part of your routine. Also, when attempting to eat a little less, try not to go overboard and cut your calories too much. If you're always starving, unhappy, and eating only grapefruits each day, it's unlikely you'll want to eat like that for very long. Consuming about 250 calories less per day and exercising or moving 250 calories more per day is often enough to lose one pound per week.

    Lastly, when eating and exercising for fat loss, both resistance training and adequate protein intake help preserve lean muscle mass so that a higher percentage of weight lost is from actual body fat, and not muscle. That's what you want to achieve muscular definition; keep the muscle and burn the fat! 

    Getting Off the Scale

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 5/8/2013

    If you're like many people trying to lose weight, you might regularly check in with the scale to gauge your progress. If results are slow, or the numbers don't reflect your hard work, frustration can follow. Preoccupation with these numbers and allowing the scale to dictate your mood can become typical. However, there are some things the scale doesn't show you. It doesn't indicate the composition of the weight you're losing. Is it water, muscle, or fat? The numbers on the scale also don't reflect your confidence, self-respect, or character, so don't let it beat you up! Here are four alternate methods to use when charting fat loss progress.

    1. Body Circumference Measurements: Use a soft tape to measure around the following body parts, without clothes, on a weekly basis under the same conditions at each measurement (time of day, day of week, etc).
    - Navel: Directly around the belly button
    - Hips: Around the widest part of your derriere
    - Thigh: Measure around the leg at the halfway point between the crease in your hips and the kneecap
    - Chest: Right around the nipple line

    2. Clothing size: Did you go down a size in your pants or tops? Are your clothes fitting better now or becoming loose? This can be a great sign of progress, even if your weight stays the same.

    3. Physical Well Being: Sometimes it can be helpful to focus on the many other benefits to eating well and exercising besides just fat loss. Did your doctor report any changes in cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar management? Are you in a better mood, handling stress more successfully, or feeling an increase in energy? Are you able to run around with your children or grandchildren without becoming winded? These can all be signs of the impactful effects of diet and exercise that are taking place inside your body.

    4. Body Fat Percentage: This measurement reports the percentage of fat relative to the percent of lean mass (muscle, bone, etc) that makes up your body weight. If some of the weight you're losing is muscle, achieving a defined or sculpted look will be difficult. To achieve this look, you want to preserve lean body mass while decreasing body fat. Calculating body fat percentage can help you assess these numbers. There are many options to pick from, and here are two of the most widely available and affordable.

    A qualified personal trainer will be able to use basic skin-fold calipers to give you an estimate. Ensure that the same person takes them each time under the same conditions. 
    Another option would be a bioelectrical impedance device, either handheld or standing. These send an undetectable electrical current through the body, and estimate the percentage based on how quickly the current is conducted through the body (travels faster through water than through fat). Because the test is hydration based, the results can be swayed based on water consumption.

    A DEXA scan or a Bod Pod measurement would be even more accurate; however, these can be expensive and harder to come by.

    So next time you get on that scale, just remember, there are other ways to measure your progress! It doesn't have to all boil down to one tool!

     

    A Fitness Motivation Toolbox

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 4/24/2013

    It might come as a surprise to you, but even fitness professionals occasionally lack motivation to exercise or eat well. There are times when I'd rather take a nap or tackle my never ending to-do list than hit the gym. What I do to stay on track, and what can help you too, is to create a figurative motivation toolbox; something to keep you focused on your health and fitness journey, or to fall back on when the impetus to exercise wanes. Here are several ideas on what to develop or include.

    Music: Create a fitness playlist filled with your favorite songs to amp you up. Nothing helps me get through tough workouts more than my playlist. Whenever I hear Eminem's "Till I Collapse" or Fort Minor's"Remember the Name", I instantly become focused and energized.

    Images and Phrases: Hanging on my bulletin board is a paper I created filled with images of fit female athletes whose strength and physiques I find inspirational. You can also use pictures of yourself when you were at your goal weight or in better shape. I also include uplifting words or quotes among the images. For example, I have on mine, "you can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat of your face", and "a year from now you will wish you had started today."

    Advantages Response Card: This is an idea I use that's from The Beck Diet Solution by Judith S. Beck. It requires writing down on an index card all of the reasons why your health goal is important to you and worth the hard work. List the most important ones first. Examples include: to boost my self esteem, to feel comfortable in different situations, because this has been a goal of mine for years, to feel strong and capable, or to reduce stress. Create several of these and keep one at home, one at work or in the car, and read through them often, especially in the morning and before dinner.

    10 Minute Rule: Next time you try to talk yourself out of a workout, exercise for at least 10 minutes then stop if you want. Most likely, you'll feel good once you start and can find the will to keep going for five or ten more minutes.

    Plan Rewards: Setting small rewards for staying on track or reaching goals can help in a big way. For instance, if your goal is to exercise 12 times in a month, you might plan a small treat once you reach that number. Rewards could include getting a massage, new workout clothes, tickets to a sporting event, manicure, or dining out for a healthy dinner.

    Dress to Impress: Not anyone else, but yourself! Dress in workout clothes or sneakers that you love to put on, and that keep you feeling comfortable and confident. Whether that's bright sneakers, a great fitting tanktop, or a shirt with a motivational phrase. One of my favorite workout shirts was made by my Spartan race team, and it says, "I may not be the strongest, I may not be the fastest, but Ill be damned if I'm not trying my hardest." Just wearing it reminds me of that day and excites me to sweat, move, and lift.

    Id love to hear from you! What do you use to motivate yourself to exercise? 

    Common Fitness Myths: Part 3

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 12/19/2012

    My post this week wraps up a three part series on common fitness myths. Here are parts one and two. I hope these have given you new thoughts and ideas about exercise.

    Thanks for reading!

    To lose weight you have to do cardio
    For a long time there's been this idea among exercisers that if you want to get in shape and lose weight, cardiovascular exercise is the only way to go. With the New Year only a few weeks away, you'll certainly see this as more people start pounding the pavement outside, or filling up the treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes at the gym in hopes of getting back into shape or losing weight. While cardiovascular health is an important component of fitness, when fat loss is concerned, it shouldn't be the first choice for most people. Strength training is a more effective exercise mode because it promotes muscle growth, an increased metabolism, AND burns calories. Fitness expert Alwyn Cosgrove wrote a great article entitled "The Hierarchy of Fat Loss", that goes into greater detail on this topic and is based on research studies and his extensive experiences in helping people lose weight.

    Workouts should be daily
    Whether you're an athlete training for a specific sport, or you're exercising to lose weight, good training and proper recovery need to go hand in hand. Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your body, but continually pushing your body to its limits day in and day out will start to take its toll and you might start to find yourself continually exhausted, sore, nursing an injury, and not making progress anymore. When consistently exercising 3-5 days a week, most people can see many benefits from that alone. Tune in to your body and give it regular rest. That doesn't mean you have to stay on the couch all day either. Enjoying a nice walk or playtime with the family can be a way to still be active without taxing your body and impeding your recovery.

    No pain, no gain
    The old military adage that pain is weakness leaving the body is often propagated by fitness enthusiasts and even some trainers. I disagree. Pain is your body's way of telling you something is wrong. Whatever the exercise might be, if you're feeling true pain from it, it's probably not the right exercise for you, at least at that point. Proper advancement of exercises, correct form, and suitable range of motion at the joints should all be given attention to prevent unnecessary pain. If addressing those areas doesn't help, seek out a physician to evaluate your issue. Sure, exercise will bring on feelings of discomfort or fatigue, but knowing the difference between that and pain will help keep you healthy in the long run. 

    Common Fitness Myths: Part 2

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 12/12/2012

    In my post last week, I covered three common fitness myths. This week I'll cover another three popular misconceptions trainers hear all the time. 

    To work the abdominals, you must do crunches
    Sit-ups and crunches used to be the meat and potato exercises when people thought of ab work. With new science developing and research studies coming out, there has been a big shift away from these exercises, based largely on the research of Stuart McGill, a spine bio-mechanics professor from the University of Waterloo. His research suggests that repeated flexing of the spine at its weakest point (as is targeted during crunches) can eventually contribute to a herniated disk or bulge because we can only bend that area so many times before it becomes weak and prone to injury. Because the main function of the abdominals is stabilization of the trunk and bracing the spine, exercises that work on these two elements while keeping the spine in a neutral position are great for the core. Try performing different plank variations, stability ball roll-outswalkovers, push-ups, or pallof presses.

    Resistance training should be broken up by body parts
    Traditionally our ideas about weight lifting have come from bodybuilders. You'll often hear people in the gym say they're doing a "leg day" or a "shoulder day". Lifters will isolate a certain area of the body and work that alone. While this can work well for bodybuilders, an alternative concept to this is training movements, not body parts, which works well for a majority of the population. The idea is that as humans we have normal movement patterns that integrate many muscle groups. Muscles don't normally work in isolation in everyday life. We push, pull, squat, bend, lunge, and twist. Training these movements in a balanced way makes strength training more functional and applicable to the tasks and activities of your daily life. To learn more about this concept, see this video.

    Women should stick to doing cardio instead of lifting weights
    Throughout many commercial gyms, I often see a multitude of women on the treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals, but few are to be found near the dumbbell or power racks. Teaching women how to strength train is something 'm passionate about, and I even wrote about it back in September. There is often a fear among us ladies that resistance training will lead to massive muscle gains, but we just don't have enough testosterone to elicit that kind of response. What we can gain from strength training, is a faster metabolism, lower body fat levels, more defined looking body, stronger muscles, and better balance, coordination, flexibility, and bone strength. What's not to love?

    Common Fitness Myths: Part 1

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 12/5/2012

    Despite the best efforts of educated fitness professionals everywhere, there are many exercise myths that still persist, and we hear them quite often. To these myths I say, I will break you! In all seriousness, I hope to shed a little light on some of the most commonly mistaken fitness beliefs. Here are the first three in this multi-part series.

    Sweat is a good indicator of the intensity of your workout
    Perspiration is highly individual, and also depends greatly on your activity, hormones, and environment. Some people sweat much more easily than others, and avid exercisers and athletes actually begin to sweat sooner into a workout than their sedentary counterparts because their bodies have become more efficient at the cooling process. Many also sweat more doing fast paced cardiovascular activities than they do when resistance training, but that doesn't mean that cardiovascular training is better because of that. Perspiration rates also vary greatly in response to the temperature and humidity of the environment. You can imagine the difference between jogging outside in cold dry weather versus taking a steamy hot yoga class. A more accurate way to gauge the intensity of a workout would be to evaluate your heart rate response instead.

    To whittle your waist, do lots of abdominal work
    Unfortunately this widely held belief, called spot reduction, just isn't true. If it were, fitness products like the Shake Weight or the Thigh Master might have more of an impact than they do! Just like we can't pick where we gain weight, we can't pick where we lose it either. When your body achieves a caloric deficit, it loses body fat all over and not just from one area. Working on just one muscle group won't make a difference in targeting where the fat loss comes from. A full body exercise program combined with a healthy diet WILL make a huge difference though.

    I just exercised so I can eat whatever I want
    Another myth I wish were true! Unfortunately, for most people this isn't the case, especially when fat loss is a goal. The caloric burn that comes from a single workout session can easily be undone by poor food choices or adding in an extra snack or two. A regular exercise routine is most effective when combined with proper nutrition. The two go hand in hand and results are typically, in my experience, better and faster when both of these areas are addressed and tailored to your goals.

    Now, next time you hear someone repeat these misnomers, break the repetitive cycle and educate them on why these aren't true!

    Following Through on Resolutions

    Originally Featured on Boston.com: 1/16/2013

    It's been just over two weeks since we rang in the New Year. If you resolved to change or create a new behavior for 2013, how's that going? I'd love to be able to tell you there's a magic number of days needed to carry out your new behavior in order to make it a habit, but the truth is it's different for everyone. I've heard it can take anywhere from 21 to 30 days to create a habit, but your compliance also depends on your starting point and how achievable the new habit is on a daily basis. People who have the most success rate their behavior changes as a 9 or 10 on a scale of 1-10; 10 meaning you can without a doubt, easily carryout your habit each day. Working on several of these, one at a time, can add up to big results. 


    Instead of telling you to keep going for another two weeks because after that it will be smooth sailing, here are three things to help you stay compliant.

    1. Planning: Winston Churchill once said, "He who fails to plan is planning to fail", and how true that is! Think of an action plan as a map to get you to your destination aka your goal. Without it, you might get lost along the way and delay your arrival time. For example, my goal last year was to lose the baby weight I had gained while pregnant with my son. I worked on a new habit that supported my goal every 2-4 weeks, and had the path planned out into small, achievable steps.

    Short term planning is also essential. I like to prepare for my week ahead on Sunday. I map out my workouts, go food shopping, cook and prepare food for the week, and wash my workout clothes. Each week I know when I'm working out and what I'm eating to support my goals. Bam! Good decisions are now that much easier to make!

    2. Resilience and Adaptability: Often times when I meet clients initially, they mention they used to exercise but stopped because of a short term illness, injury, or a chaotic work schedule. If you had the flu for a week and stayed in your pajamas all day because you were sick, would you continue to wear your pajamas everywhere after you felt better? Probably not. There will always be curveballs thrown your way, but finding ways to work around them is your best bet. Just because you took a day or a week off from your plan doesn't mean you have to stop indefinitely. It shouldn't be an all or nothing situation either. If I can't exercise my scheduled 5 times a week, I do as many as I can manage instead of just skipping my workouts altogether. Anticipate these challenges ahead of time and focus on the things you CAN do each day to bring you closer to your goal. For example, a client of mine had an elbow injury, but instead of cancelling our sessions, we focused on what he COULD do. To his surprise there were tons of exercises he was capable of without using his injured arm.

    3. Visibility: Create multiple reminders about your goal in highly visible areas. I like to write mine on a sticky note or index card by my computer. Put reminders in your calendar (both paper and online). That way, even when things get hectic you'll be less likely to let it slip your mind. I also find it helpful to list out all the reasons your resolution is significant to you, whether they're big or small. Looking over these gives me more resolve to stay on track. Lastly, try creating a collage of motivational images or phrases that inspire you. I included pictures of myself when I was at my goal weight, images of inspirational athletes, and phrases like "you can throw in the towel or you can use it to wipe the sweat off your face".