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Tuesday
Mar232010

An Ode to the Gym

Fonda flashbacks It's one of the top places you'll find me other than home, the office, or the supermarket. I admit that hesitantly for fear of sounding shallow because of 80s flashbacks of supersvelte women in leg warmers doing endless leg lifts. But the gym scene has evolved, and it's no longer just about the exercise.

I've often dragged my butt to exercise class deflated after a grueling workday or dealing with difficult family issues and left with a clear head and hope for lighter days. With my pregnancy, exercising regularly before and after delivery gave me stamina and the physical and mental health to have a near-effortless experience. 

I've made unexpected connections through the gym. My longest friendship since living in Boston is still going strong because, despite career and life changes, we attend the same gym. A Haitian woman attending my Zumba class thanked me afterward that, for an hour, she was able to take her mind off of family members still missing from the earthquake. A cancer patient and Zumba fanatic who had seen me for nutrition counseling recently passed away, leaving me with a greater ache than I expected. 

I've been lucky to find classes that, amidst sweat flying in every direction, induce pure exhilaration. Obviously not everyone feels that way; some equate the gym with going to the dentist. But, for most of us, exercise isn't really a choice. We need it to control our weight as we live in dietary extravagance, we do it to feel better about our bodies, and we reap the physical and emotional benefits it almost always offers. You can spend peanuts on a great exercise routine with just a few DVDs (even borrowed from the library) and finding a safe walking route. But many of us choose a gym because it's year-round and we know deep down that having to pay a monthly fee can be a major motivator to keep us going. The choices are vast: YMCAs offer affordable monthly rates and have some of the best Zumba classes around. All-women's gyms remove the various distractions men may cause (not meant to sound sexist but you know exactly what I mean!) and often offer childcare. A growing number of clubs are affiliated with medical centers if you have a disease condition that needs extra addition or personalized training.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent exercise recommendation is two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-level exercise each week (can be broken up into 10 minute chunks) and muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week. Or, if you're up for the challenge, one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly, like jogging or biking on hilly terrain.

Some kindly advice from a gym rat: Do make exercise part of your lifestyle but don't be too militant. Take a day off when you need it and don't feel guilty. Be on an endless search for instructors who inspire you and don't waste your time or money on a gym that you dread going to. Most importantly, have a sense of humor: check out these blogs for a good chuckle!

Eat.Sleep.Play.Repeat: Thoughts While Running on the Treadmill

Cranky Fitness: First Time at the Gym? How Not to Make an Ass of Yourself

Tuesday
Mar162010

Fiber Is Sexy

So read a pin that my coworker wore on her jacket. Only a dietitian could get away with that! Fiber and its necessary function of, ahem, moving things along in the body is quite the unsexy topic. I remember the days when, if you wanted to eat more fiber, your choices in the supermarket were wheat bread and All-Bran cereal, aside from the natural standbys of fruits, vegetables, and beans. Fiber has exploded in supermarkets in recent years as most experts recommend that even healthy adults aim for at least 25 grams a day. Thanks to companies like Fiber One who offer a hefty dose of fiber in cereals, granola bars, and even yogurt, there's no excuse to not meet that recommendation and even surpass it. 

Fiber's mission is to travel through our digestive system and exit, bringing with it some toxic materials and digested food. There are two main types: insoluble that acts like a broom to "sweep clean" the colon, keeping us regular and preventing cancerous substances from building up; and soluble that dissolves in liquid in the stomach to turn into a gel-like substance, which helps us feel fuller longer (great for dieters). Soluble fiber may also help regulate blood sugars in people with diabetes and lower bad cholesterol levels. Most health experts agree that both types of fiber, and more specifically, the foods they are found in should be part of every healthful diet. Below is a high fiber nutritious muffin recipe I adapted from Fiber One. I love that it contains yogurt for a boost of nutrients and moisture so that less oil is needed. It's a portable, easy breakfast or snack that both kids and adults will appreciate!  

  Perfecto    

BLUEBERRY YO-GO MUFFINS

Ingredients

1 cup Fiber One bran cereal

1 egg, beaten

3 T vegetable oil

2 containers (6 oz each) vanilla yogurt

1 1/2 cups flour (I use a pre-made blend of half all-purpose, half wheat)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/4 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

1 cup blueberries

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400°F. Place paper baking cup in each of 12 regular-size muffin cups, or grease bottom of each muffin cup. Pulse cereal to fine in food processor; or place cereal in food storage plastic bag, seal, and crush with rolling pin.
  2. In medium bowl, stir together egg, oil, and yogurt. Add cereal, flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Gently fold in berries. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.
  3. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from pan.
Tuesday
Mar092010

Energize Those Snacks!

Entire aisles devoted to snack foods!Snacks are an important part of a healthful diet and especially key if you're trying to lose weight. The problem is that supermarket snack foods have become a separate food group: chips, crackers, cookies, ice cream sandwiches, and all those other bite-sized treats that no longer qualify as "snacks" when they take up a large percentage of the total calories eaten in a day.

An ideal snack should be a small refreshment just enough to quiet those hunger pangs until your next meal. Skip the chocolate bar or bag of pretzels. The best snacks that go the extra mile contain carbohydrate, some protein, and a little fat. Below is a list of my top five power snacks, all less than 250 calories. I've included brand names for ease of finding them, but you can use equivalent generic store brands.

  • The perfect afternoon perk6 oz. cup Dannon yogurt (any flavor), 1/2 banana sliced, 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • Whole-wheat English muffin with 1 tablespoon peanut butter and 1 tablespoon raisins divided among the two muffin halves
  • 1 Laughing Cow Mini Babybel Cheese, 10 roasted almonds, 10 red or green seedless grapes
  • Filling and packed with nutrientsOn-the-go smoothie: Blend up 4 oz. (1/2 cup) orange juice, 1/2 banana sliced, 2 frozen strawberries, 3 oz. (1/2 container) vanilla yogurt, 1 scoop protein powder
  • 1 Arnold Sandwich Thins lightly toasted, 2 tablespoons hummus, 2 thin slices turkey breast or roast beef