Saturday, December 19, 2009

Typically Mindless to Mindful

It really seems like just yesterday I was sitting at my kitchen table writing my final blog of 2008. I’ve found that when significant events happen in our lives, whether it’s the birth of a child, death of a loved one, new job, new home, we have a point of reference and then time seems to fly by. And as time goes by we fall into the typical roles and routines of our day to day lives, those of husbands and wives, moms and dads. I battle with routine and the “typical” stuff and I’ve resolved some stuff in some respects. But haven’t in others. I still force my kids to eat vegetables and I do so by begging, bribing and threatening (typical mom, no?). But when it comes to health, fitness and the New Year, it’s never typical. My commitment to health and fitness is long term and consistent. It doesn’t stop and start. But typically, January is the time of year when gym enrollment peaks. People are a few pounds heavier and looking forward to new beginnings. Some purposely eat their heart out over the holidays believing they will start anew in January. But typically by mid February the drive and motivation is gone, we’re tired, bored, cold and bitter so we slump back to old habits. Typical. So what will it be for you this year? Will it be a typical year? If you’ve been following your typical path maybe this is the year you change direction.

For myself, I’ve decided to make 2010 a more mindful year. A few months ago I came across “Mindfulness” and “Counter Clockwise” by social psychologist Ellen J. Langer. *Langer conducted an experiment at a nursing home wherein elderly men lived for a week as though it was 1959 and these same men seemed to grow younger…So what if you became more mindful? For a week you live as though you’re growing younger, stronger, healthier and lighter. What if you decide to behave like a healthy person with healthy habits? If you psychologically change your perspective isn’t it natural that you can alter physically? **When a group of hotel maids began thinking of their strenuous jobs as serious exercise they reaped greater physical benefits (weight loss and lowered blood pressure) than a similar group of maids who had not been told to think of their activity as exercise. People who are mentally engaged and focused during physical activity may benefit more from exercise than individuals who exercise mindlessly. “Put your mind to your muscle

During my time as a trainer I’ve found that people often fall into a mindless rut. We get up and run through the same routines day in and day out and are not fully engaged. We appear to be thinking when were not. We go along without much question, thought or analysis. We adhere to accepted notions of health, body, aging and fitness; we’re young, slim, healthy and active then we grow up, get married have families and become overweight, inactive, unhealthy. We “let ourselves go”. Is our mindset to blame? I question these expectations and think that the weight we are at twenty is a weight we can be for most of our life. By letting go of accepted notions we can have better health and fitness at any age. Be conscious of your mindlessness. If you at least conceive the possibility of a mindful attitude, even by such simple measures as those used in the nursing home experiment, you may actually surprise yourself.

This year choose not to blindly follow typical routines and mindless beliefs. Refuse to carryout senseless actions. Opt away from your programmed approach and reactions. “Challenge ingrained behaviours by making subtle changes in your everyday lives”…. and in your health and fitness. Make 2010 the year you take the “Counter Clockwise” approach with your well being. “The magic lies in being aware of the ways we mindlessly react to cultural cues.” Adjust your attitudes, speech and internal dialogue and you may then defy the beliefs that physically constrain you from achieving your best health and fitness. Simply - be mindful.

All the best in 2010. May you and your loved ones enjoy your year in good health and fitness/gena.

*Langer, E.J., 2009, Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility

*Crum, A.J., and Langer, E.J., 2007, Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect, Psychological Science, v18, 165–171

Monday, October 5, 2009

By Doing or Not doing You’re Still Going to Suffer (a little or a lot)

Often when I’m out running I see groups of people running together. There’s a part of me that runs away from that but there’s also a part of me that wants to embrace it. You see I kind of see the sport of running as an individuals sport, something for the solitary types. Yet when I’m surrounded by others in a common race there is a moment when I look around at everyone and I’m overwhelmed with emotion. This year when I decided to run another marathon I wasn’t sure why but I resolved that I would figure it out once I was out there.

So during the training period leading up to this marathon I kind of wished for a running partner. Well maybe not a running partner but someone to keep me going. Someone to motivate me and push me beyond what I think are my limits. A support person. A *suffer buddy. I’ve just recently come across this term - suffer buddy. The thing is that as a trainer I spend much of my day as a “support person” and although I take on the traits of a suffer buddy I’ve been called many things but that. For the most part I know what to tell myself to get through my challenges. But sometimes when all I can tell myself is “hurry up and finish I want a sandwich” I think a suffer buddy might offer something more inspiring. A suffer buddy understands that all at once you want to quit and not quit. They keep it together when you think you can’t. When you think you’ve had enough your suffer buddy doesn’t lose their edge. They put aside arrogance and cynicism. They are clear on their role and know that what you’re doing and why you’re doing it is personal. It’s not about them or their logic. It’s about you. When your mind is yelling "What the f*!@ are you doing?!?! Put your feet up!!!! Have a sandwich!!!" your suffer buddy shoves water down your throat and repeats your mantra.

Maybe because I’m approaching that dreaded midlife number I want to believe there is still so much in me that I haven’t tapped into. I’ve been told I’m obsessive for running marathons. You see it can be quite demanding and a full length training program can take over your life. So I do alter my life just to fit in a fraction of the recommended training. There’s work, bills, kids, meals and laundry. You still need to sleep and recover. This is when broken sleep really sucks. Yes, life still happens. So what one may see as obsessive another may see as determined. When one sees crazy, another sees inspiring. It’s not for everyone. But I think it can be.

Recently while trying to offer solace to an injured friend I was reminded that a marathon is not just about the run. In the time and determination needed to get through each hill, mile and lap we learn about ourselves. The training is not just about the training. What you accomplish during that time is about you. And this is true with any challenge you take on. Even if it’s a decision that tonight you will get out and walk. But sometimes only you can see that. On the outside there will always be someone with an excuse and who finds all this just too much of an inconvenience. My motivation to participate in a marathon is not based on logic. It’s emotion. For you, starting a health and fitness program might be about neither. Maybe you’ve simply had a wake up call regarding your health. And my reasons for racing change at each stage of the race - the beginning is different than the middle and the end. We make a decision to begin a healthy lifestyle for one reason only to realise that we're continuing for all the benefits gained along the way. When we take something on because we have to (doctors orders), a little suffering goes a long way. After all we were in fact suffering by not doing.

Perhaps when I decide to take on something really big I will find myself a suffer buddy but for now – well, I’ll just have to be my own.

Enjoy yourself in good health and fitness/gena.

*Runner’s World, April 2009, Flight of the Bumble Bee by Christie Aschwanden

Monday, September 14, 2009

Post Exercise Nutrition, Rewards and Cake.

I don’t really get the whole concept of treating oneself to junk food as a reward after a workout. I personally believe that rewards for accomplishments in exercise should not be linked to food. Trust me I can find something more rewarding than a piece of cake. I don’t think I have to earn it and I don’t punish myself by it. I eat a piece of cake because I want a piece of cake. It has nothing to do with anything else. That’s life. I eat cake.

When we exercise we burn more calories, burning calories results in a caloric deficit, caloric deficit makes us feel hungry and when were hungry we want to eat. And sometimes we’re so hungry after a workout that we want to eat everything. This is where it becomes tricky. More exercise, more hunger, more food so are we really making any "gains". Your post exercise meal is not about a reward or simply your hunger. It’s about recovery, building, repairing and nourishing your body. Actually isn’t all that rewarding in it’s self? We consume carbohydrates to restock on depleted glycogen stores and protein to support muscle repair. We also have lots of fluids to replace water lost through sweat. (So if you’re not sweating then you’re not working hard enough). The sooner you eat after training the better. Besides the “technical” reasons stated by experts which suggest you eat within the first 15 - 30 minutes post workout, I’ve found that the longer you wait to eat the hungrier you become which results in poor food choices. Like an entire cake.

So what do you eat, or if you insist – what do you reward yourself with, post workout? Experts suggest that recovery meals contain “… about one gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight, in a ratio of three or four parts carb to one part protein”. This requires some brain work so to keep it simple “here are ten great recovery meals you can rely on, no matter what.”

1. Peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich on whole-grain bread with Gatorade or lots of water.
2. Low-fat chocolate soy milk. The perfect mix of carbs, protein, and fat.
3. Quaker Oatmeal Squares cereal with nonfat milk and blueberries or a banana.
4. Smoothie with low-fat yogurt, whey-protein powder, and fruit.
5. Whole-wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese.
6. Grilled-chicken sandwich on whole-grain bread.
7. Apple smothered with peanut butter (the more the better).
8. Egg whites scrambled with fresh vegetables.
9. Grilled fish with brown rice and vegetables.
10. If you just can't stomach solid food after a workout, a recovery drink is better than nothing at all. Hammer Nutrition's Recoverite has a 3:1 ratio of complex carbs to protein and is full of electrolytes (try the Subtle Citrus flavor).

Keep in mind though that if your workout was a brisk 30 minute walk you should skip the Gatorade. If you ran 24k then the Gatorade makes sense. Be rati0nal. So getting back to the cake, I recently came across an interview with chef Bethenny Frankel where she says “if you eat a bowl of pasta, don’t order the tiramisu as well. You can’t spend more money that you have, and you can’t spend more calories than your body needs...those so-called naturally thin people you envy don’t have a secret, they just have a very rational relationship with food. They realize that a small scoop of ice cream is not going to make them fat”. So yes - we need to form a rational relationship with food. Of course we all want to eat cake. I think that if you want a piece of cake on a Tuesday afternoon then eat cake. But not the entire cake and not if nachos are for dinner. Then shut it and get on with your life. And I mean that in the nicest way.

Enjoy yourself if good health and fitness/gena.

Outside Magazine, February 2009, The Rest is Easy Come Back Stronger
By Geoff Van Dyke

Monday, June 29, 2009

Everybody is Some Body.

As a personal trainer I spend a lot of my time witnessing progress and change. What is achieved with a client within the hour spills over to all areas of their life. It’s amazing to watch someone who could barely keep up at a level 4 on the treadmill now doing intervals at a level 9! And it’s this realized drive that changes the way we think about ourselves and our bodies. And “bodies” is a subject of common discussion. “I want so-and-so’s butt” or “so-and-so’s arms, legs, six pack….I want to look 20” Of course we all want to look great. That’s a given. I’m not different. But after many discussions on nipping, tucking and altering I’ve grown to see a “body” as more than just and image. I prefer to take a more philosophical approach. Of course this philosophy works best when I know someone is doing they’re best to stay fit and be healthy. Some things we just can’t change. Personally I’m accepting more and more about myself. I am what I am. I’m more than how I look. And I started to understand this when I was pushed beyond my level of comfort. The leaner, stronger body image gained due to the work involved was a bonus.

I’ve worked with individuals who look quite slim - size 0 or size 2 slim. But they tell me that they can’t run or keep up with their kids. They’re often tired, experiencing headaches and out of breath while doing simple daily tasks. Does it matter to be a size 2 and not be able to run a mile? Or get up the stairs comfortably? When you achieve something that is physically demanding and requires commitment and change to your life style you begin to look at yourself and your body differently. There was a time when I cared more about being a size two than about being balanced and healthy. That was a long time ago. Maybe I’ve matured. Maybe I’ve seen too many unhappy size twos. I joined a gym a few months shy of turning 16. I lied and said I was 18 and signed my first contract. I’d watch folks riding the bikes for an hour at a time then running to the aerobics class. They would tell me how they ate a can of tuna for lunch. I thought that was the way to go. I was trying to figure it out and I had no idea what I was doing. But by lifting weights and running I was feeling better and I was stronger and this changed my outlook on my body image. By no means was I slim. I was a chubby teen. But I felt good and strong and I was impressed with my efforts and commitment.

We all want to look better. But when we continuously look outside ourselves to feel better we are always at the mercy of time and change. We get older, gravity takes over and there is always someone better looking, leaner, stronger, younger…I read this quote “if you seek the highest first everything else comes to you”. So this is what I’ve found with exercise. Do it, stick with it and everything else will follow -improved eating habits, mental alertness, feelings of satisfaction, confidence and of course a stronger, leaner body. Your body. Just better.

Enjoy yourself in good health and fitness/gena.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Visit to The Dark Side

Perhaps I was under-rested, physically drained. A couple late nights with sick kids followed by early mornings with motivated clients. Throw in the Easter weekend, home-baked sweet bread, biscuits, chocolate eggs and bunnies…And it happened. I gave into the chocolate and those sugary white carbohydrates. Then, after several get-togethers over several bottles of wine, second and third servings I joined the force of the dark side. I ate whatever, whenever, no thought, no care. Three days of this and I could feel Darth Vader breathing down my neck…”you should not have come back!”. Where’s a light saber when you need one. After all was said and done I found myself rolling out of bed with a lingering hang-over, feeling tired, cranky, belly achey, constantly thirsty and completely out of my element. And people do this all the time? When you eat well, exercise and rest accordingly you really feel it when you don’t.

I use to follow this method of "starting fresh" every time I fell off the wagon(usually Mondays). Eventually I was starting fresh every Monday and feeling like, more than anything, I was constantly failing. Finally I realized this method didn’t offer many benefits. One step forward, two steps back. I then simply made a conscious decision to change my lifestyle and live a healthier, balanced life. It doesn’t stop and start. It’s long term. No deadline and the idea of "starting fresh" - I just don’t think of it that way. You just do it and do it continuously and along the way we deviate a little but that’s all part of living.

I, like many, want to "live a little". But to live a little more and to live it well it’s important to establish consistent healthy habits. I don’t live and breathe supplements, protein shakes and tuna. I don’t live in the gym. Actually I don’t own a gym membership and I haven’t for years. I have a small space in my basement. Sometimes I might workout in my kitchen while making dinner. Think lunges with a dozen eggs in hand. It’s possible. I also have a chin up bar in my laundry room so I do them between loads. Invest in some dumbbells and a skipping rope. Can't make that investment? No problem, i've done kettlebell swings with a bag of potatoes. It’s not complex. Consistency has kept me lean, strong and healthy. It’s not always perfect but like I tell my clients; eat well and exercise most of the time so the "some of the time" that you don’t won’t kill you. May the force be with you.

Enjoy yourself in good health and fitness/gena

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dude, We're Not Eskimos

So a friend of mine has been putting on some weight over the winter, especially over the holidays. During one of our coffee sessions I remark about this - in a nice sort of way.

So my friend begins to explain that the human body needs to store fat during the winter to deal with the cold. Just like bears. He continues to explain that weight gain is necessary because someone like me would die in the winter and someone like himself might pickup my scraps for a small snack. He chuckles and is quick to point out my white fingertips. My friend likes to be right. All the time. *Sigh*

I understand our bodies and appetites change with the seasons and there may be scientific reasons for this that date back to the survival of our ancestors. Temperatures fall, we stay indoors, days get shorter and we gain weight. This is, of course, compounded by holiday office parties, family parties, kid’s parties, dinners, get-to-gethers etc. Also, don’t most TV sports like hockey, football and basketball take place during the winter months over beer, pizza and wings? Essentially we become sedentary and overindulge. Interestingly enough though clients I work with seem to move along just fine over the winter months - until the holidays. And coincidentally around January 1st pounds seem to start shedding. So regardless of our natural tendency to gain weight during the winter months, weight gain is essentially a direct result of eating more calories than you burn.

Of course my simple answer is not good enough. My friend begins to explain recent studies and the latest statistics. My eyes glaze over, my head begins to nod and I suggest it’s time to go. As we get up my friend grabs his down filled jacket, wool toque and Thinsulate gloves. We make our way through an underground path, which leads us to the indoor parking lot where my friend has parked his vehicle. As he settles into his vehicle’s heated seats I remind him that he is now going to drive his fully insulated body and his heated seated vehicle back to his underground parking garage, get into his elevator and go back to his space – with central heating...Dude, were not Eskimos. My friend chuckles at my white fingertips and offers a thanks man, I can walk.

Enjoy yourself in good health and fitness/gena.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dinner at my Place

It’s true that in the past my family hesitantly approached the table at dinner time. I was the only one who couldn’t see the beaming neon lights flashing overhead “APPROACH WITH CAUTION.” There was no cheering and nobody fought over chairs or dibs on the main course. Sometimes I would hear “awwww maaaan” or sigh…why can’t we have ---- but eventually the plate was cleared off and I’d hear something worth repeating. Making sure that you have a lean, healthy protein, a wholesome carbohydrate and good sources of fibre that everyone likes, every night of the week, requires some effort and lots of organization. I refuse to cook separate meals for each person in my home. No way, Jose.

A few months ago after preparing one of my wholesome dinners it was suggested that perhaps dinner be served by McDonalds the following evening (apparently that specific meal wasn’t well received by a family member.) At this time precisely is when my older child responded with:"EWWWWWWWW McDonalds is gross! Even their apples aren’t healthy! If you leave one of their apples on the counter for 2 weeks it would still be “fresh” because it’s injected with a bunch of stuff!" This apparently was discovered through an experiment I had nothing to do with.

One of my favourite docs (Dr. Oz) stated that it takes about 12 attempts to alter one’s taste buds to liking something. Eating well and meeting everyone’s likes can be challenging. But it can be done. I'm guilty of serving veggie dogs and chips for dinner - I admit it so whether you’re feeding a family or just yourself you need to plan to be organized. We all know this through work and school. Eating well is no different. Invest time in thought-out weekly meals because when you’re organized things happen. I have all my clients plan and track what they eat in order to understand food groups, calories, portions etc. and this carries through to meal planning. Take the time to make a shopping list, review healthy recipes, set out your meals for the week and eventually the process will become less time consuming because you will get better at it.

These days at the conclusion of most meals everyone is happy and resigned to the fact that the meal was good and tasty. I should also mention that recently there was some cheering...and it had to do with broccoli.

Enjoy yourself in good health and fitness/gena