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Bone Broth is the New Wine

Recently I completed the The Three Day Refresh, a cleanse designed by Beachbody to help get one’s nutrition on track. This particular cleanse is sustainable for me in that it allows solid food (whole fruits, veggies, and good fats). The program came with dinner recipes and suggested a cup of warm broth to accompany dinner. That eventually became the highlight of the cleanse for me, and my favorite new habit that learned while on the cleanse.

As I prepped my meals for the three days, I made some homemade veggie broth to accompany dinner as suggested by the plan.  I made my usual “leftover end” chicken stock but added some extra veggies and left out the chicken bones. I use a meal planning website, No More To Go, where I get my weekly variety of healthy whole meal recipes. These recipes often make use of chicken broth, so I like to keep some on hand in the freezer for any given meal so I don’t need to buy the jar, box, or condensed stuff. I never thought to use broth as my dinner drink. I think this will now become my usual dinner drink… INSTEAD OF WINE. It was THAT good. Here’s what I put in mine this week but really, any veggies you have around will work great.

  • –onion: quartered and leave on the peels. I also added the extra skin and peels from my prep for the week
  • — carrots: I buy those carrots with the green ends so I throw those ends in the pot (but cut off the part where the greens attach to the carrot since there is always lots of dirt in there and I’m not sure I can get it all out). I also threw veggie peels from the carrots i prepped for the week and a couple of whole carrots.
  • — scallions: I cut off the delicious greens for dinners this week and threw the white ends with the fuzzy roots in the pot.
  • — garlic: one whole clove with the flaky peels and all; quartered
  • —celery: throw in all the droopy white pieces from the middle of the stalk, all leafy ends and also the very bottom of the nice looking stalks (where it started getting wide and white). The rest are cut up to snack on later in the week!
  • — asparagus: I snapped off the ends to prep my asparagus for the week. You know those nasty woodsy parts at the bottom you always want to remove them before you cook the stalks to eat, they are perfect for broth though! Just hold the two ends of the asparagus and let the stalk breaks where it wants to and the non-flowered end is the trash.  Or in this case you’re using it for delicious stock and your asparagus will taste better being  rid of those woody ends
  • — herbs: I use the stalky end parts of whatever herbs I have on hand for the week. This week it was thyme and parsley; but dill, tarragon, rosemary all work well too
  • — seasoning: about two bay leaves, 10-15 whole  peppercorns and some salt; I’m not too into salt like some if my family and friends. Since I usually make broth for cooking, I go light on the salt and season with it as I cook. Since this was for drinking straight up, I added some salt but went easy on it (since was for a cleanse) and tasted it later to make sure it didn’t need more (it didn’t).

Put all that stuff in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Then, turn down to a simmer for a few hours. This part is tricky. If the simmer is too aggressive you might boil away too much liquid and need to add more water. I tend to watch it and keep it at a very low simmer but let it reduce a little to get extra concentrated and flavorful.

Once it’s done, you drain out the veggies (and my mom always looks at me like I’m wasting the veggies since I toss them… But really there’s no use for them since all the flavor and nutrients are in your broth!) I usually refrigerate the broth for a day or two and then freeze it in quart size freezer bags (1 or two cups at a time) for use while cooking later. I’ve heard of people freezing it in ice cube trays but I find that to be a hassle especially since I cook with it and most recipes usually call for a cup or two at a time. I lay the quart bags flat on a baking sheet (only one level high, once I had them stacked upon each other and the weight of the liquid burst the bags and that sucked). Once frozen I organize them standing upright like books on a bookshelf 🙂

Just today, a friend passed me an article by Dr Sears about the benefits of “bone broth.” While the term bone broth sounds somewhat gross to me (although bone marrow is a whole other story…mmmm), I had no idea about the boost your immunity, benefits to your gut, reduction of inflammation that bone broth provides. And of course, another positive is that it is now hip in New York City for those very reasons. In the past, I always prepared chicken broth using my left over chicken bones from rotisserie chickens that I may have used for other meal prep. After the deliciousness of veggie broth I considered switching to veggies without bones for awhile. Now that I understand the specific benefits related to the bones in the broth, I think I’ll continue with my warm drink at dinner but with bones and not plan veggie.

To convert the above veggie stock to “bone stock,” throw the bones from two rotisserie chicken to add a add nice subtle flavor — if you want more “punch” you could add some cheap chicken parts (necks or legs). I like to roast them first, as I find that the roasted chicken adds a really nice flavor. Oh, and peel off the skins! It adds a layer of fat to the top of your broth that you either need to skim off the entire time you cook, or once in the fridge for a day, it’s a thick layer of fat on the top of the broth that you can just pick off with a spoon. I go with no slim and generally have very minimal fat in my broth.  I also learned that adding a couple of tablespoons of vinegar not only enhances the flavor, it helps the minerals more easily leech the valuable minerals from the bones to the stock.
I’m excited to try some new broth ideas! What are your favorite broth recipes or tips?
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The Fit Mom’s Thanksgiving Approach

Planning ahead this holiday season is going to be the key to my success.  Thinking about potential pitfalls, I’ve developed a framework to insure minimal setbacks this holiday season.

I’ve seen a lot of holiday survival posts for people who get stressed out over the holidays about spending time with annoying family members. I’m the opposite: I love my family, I love spending a few days together over a holiday weekend… That said, we have too much fun: about drinking and eating in particular. I guess I get so relaxed and feel like I’m “at home” I tend to let it all hang out (literally and figuratively). Not this year!!

Thanksgiving food is not my jam. Luckily, I’ve never been a huge fan of the heavy rich + sweet flavors accompanied by days and days of thanksgiving leftovers. This usually surprises my friends who know that I love to cook (so how could I not love a holiday centered around cooking?), I love Autumn (so why don’t I get all excited about candied yams and the flavors of pecan stuffing with dried cranberries?). Especially now that I’m inspired by and focused on a fit lifestyle…. I need to come up with an approach and an emergency kit so this one holiday does sidetrack my progress.

I decided to think about my approach to the holiday in advance and not have unpreparedness be my downfall. We are traveling a few hours away by car with both kids in tow. I always make sure that the kids are fully stocked with food and activities. Since we don’t usually do rest stops except for bathroom breaks so there’s not too much temptation for the ride, except this year I will make sure to pack water and some healthy snacks for myself so I am not all HANGRY at the rest stops and making  poor food decisions. Let’s say we bring a couple of apples and one serving of nuts; if I bring more than one serving of nuts it will get eaten instead of the apple. (Also an extra serving and an apple for the return trip packed in my luggage. )

Gum — first let me say I actually  not a gum fan and actually am so turned off when other people chew gum (sorry!) that said we’re in survival mode here so several packs of gum are coming along. One is for the car ride (in case I start wanting to dig into the kids goldfish stash) and for some other critical points that I will talk about momentarily.

The big dinner – so as I mentioned above the actual thanksgiving meal isn’t my favorite, (and one candid discussion revealed my sister and her family felt the same way!) so we eat out on thanksgiving. The good thing is that it allows me to make a smart decision about my meal without any impact from those around me. The bad news is that eating out can be challenging since there’s lots of temptation around! Let’s start by setting some ground rules: 1. I am going to be present and accountable while deciding what to order.  I am not tricking myself into the “well it’s only one meal” or the, “I’ve been so good for the past few months I deserve to be able to eat whatever I want.” Oh, or the good ‘ole pretending what I’ve ordered is healthy but knowing there is an unhealthy aspect that I’m ignoring (ie steak and veggies are great- mashed potatoes are not). I will also not ignore my power to make substitutions (extra veggies for the mashed potatoes, leave off the sauce). I know what works and how to tweak recipes to make them healthy. I need to remember and use my power to do this!! It’s all in my hands. 2. No bread basket. If there is bread and it’s particularly tempting I will order some sort of veggie focused appetizer to eat while others chow down on the bread. 3. Water!! Lots of it. Water before any booze. Water before each course. 4. oh and on that note: Booze – more on this later but I think I’m going to order seltzer and drink that while I eat. I will have wine but drink (or should I say sip) between courses. I would like to commit to one glass of wine during the entire time at the restaurant. Not sure how do-able that is so I’m not making any promises. 5. Obviously I should and will skip dessert. If I want a bite, sure. But no reason to go all in and have an entire dessert. Sure, an element of success of a healthy eating plan is to not deprive yourself. But it also involves trade offs and choices. I know I’m going to have wine on this holiday weekend. If I choose to do that it means I need to keep everything else in check as much as I can. Which leads me to…

Booze – my family is a group of big drinkers. We love to party and holidays usually get pretty rowdy. It’s fun and I don’t want to stop that tradition (that may be the only actual tradition we have!) That said, I can make some ground rules to make sure I don’t lose all control and go backwards in my progress. Here’s a framework that I’ll use to accomplish this: 1. No booze before 5pm. This may seem obvious to some, but doesn’t brunch mean Bloody Mary’s or Mimosas? Not this time. Early start to drinking means more hours to forget these rules, ignore my goals and make poor decisions. 2. There will always be one large glass of water or seltzer between each glass of wine. 3. The only food eaten (aside from dinner) is healthy snacks like veggies. No crackers no cheese and no nuts. Those are too easy to overdo especially when the inhibitions are down. And to prove to myself I’m serious, if I break this rule I am not allowed any more booze that night. It’s a slippery slope here. The alcohol has enough calories as it is and there is no reason to complicate things. 4. While we’re on the calorie topic, no juices or sweet drinks when I do have booze. Stick to wine as opposed to a Mimosa. 5. Gum. Not with the booze but if I’m starting to want to snack or have had a bit too much to drink I’ll  pop a piece in and take a break for a little bit.

Stress management — (Don’t sweat the small stuff) — Anytime I’m In close quarters with my kids (and them with each other) it gets stressful. My go-to for stressful situations is eating and drinking. So, first I’m going to try to go with the flow and just let things fall where they may.  Also, I will workout. Hoping to hit up yoga with my sister at her usual studio and will also bring a couple of my favorite fitness DVDs in case I need to blow off steam. (Body combat anyone?) I will bring my herbal stress relief tea to sip on the afternoon when I feel like downing a bottle of wine. Another non- food stress relief tool I use at home is organizing. I breathe and just empty our a drawer it a cabinet and clean and straighten it out. While I can do that at my sisters, I can also bring some things to do with my hands that might achieve the same feeling of relaxing. Some examples: nail polish (or jamberry my case) coloring book and crayons, and my stress relief ball.

Of course I’ll be bringing some of my go-to healthy foods (aside from just the car ride). My sister has already stocked up with fresh fruits and veggies, but I’ll bring my shakeology, some graze snacks, and my water bottle.

Let’s do this! Thanksgiving: I’m not your bitch!!!!

A Guide to Philadelphia Foodie Finds for the Fit Mom

Being constantly out and about Philadelphia with my two kiddos has allowed me to sample some of the culinary delights of the city’s many kid spots. Lately, I’ve been finding a few gems  on the kid circuit and took a moment to reflect on some of the highlights and pitfalls of staying for lunch while out. I share with you my first in a series of posts on fit mom foodie finds (of the Greater Philadelphia area).

One of my cardinal rules when out and about with my munchkins has always been to have food for them. It may have been a natural progression from breastfeeding days when snacks were available on demand or the toddler days when I needed Puffs or Cheerios to quiet them down. The habit has served me well when we pass the soft pretzel guy and Tyler decides he’s starving and I have a semi nutritious option for him (and of course I never have cash on me so soft pretzel guy wouldn’t even be an option). But I’m able to whip out an apple or some cashews and if he’s genuinely hungry, these healthy snacks suffice.

But for me? Never – or at least not until I became fit! I started traveling with enough emergency snacks for them and me. But every once in awhile (being the fun and spontaneous mom that i am), we stay out longer than planned at the zoo, museum, park and we need to buy lunch.

Recently at the Franklin Institute I was super excited about the cafe. (No not the one in the lobby with slushies and popcorn and ice cream) – the actual sit down cafe by the entrance exit. They had a selection of three soups. I chose the autumn vegetable because I was getting HANGRY and forgot my Emergency Snack (ES) that day so I also wanted to get a salad. But they had a vegetarian chili which would have been also great as a hearty lunch in its own. So the salad… Oh yum. It was strawberries, goat cheese and walnuts on spinach. I’m not a fan of walnuts so I pushed them to the side. But this salad was delish! They also have other pre-made salads, sandwiches (on whole grain bread and wraps). All in all I give this an 8 on my 10 point scale of healthy options for the fit mom. Nice variety and selection of fresh grab and go or made to order options.

For the most part, the food selection at the Philadelphia Zoo is not great for the fit mom. But there is a little hidden gem located between the Amazon Rainforest Carousel and Tiger Terrace. They have my favorite chick pea and feta salad, as well as wraps and hummus. I believe they may have other salads but I usually beeline for the chick peas. My kids aren’t huge fans of the options at this place so it may call for a separate stop at Tiger Terrace for the littles.  The food is grab and go but the chick pea salad is worth an extra star alone. I give this a 7/10.  Sidebar for a moment about our first trip to the zoo: my husband, Mike, and I got our first zoo membership when our oldest was still an infant. It was a gorgeous spring day and we were having one of “those” weekends and figured if we could get out of the house, strap her up in stroller we could let her check out the sights while we walk around, get some fresh aid, engage in some grown up conversation, maybe stop at one of the cafes for a drink. Oh wait, there’s no alcohol at the Zoo? Today, being the well travelled Philly mom that I am, I know this fact. At the time, though, I was new to the mom circuit (and have a husband from New Orleans where alcohol is everywhere). I assumed there was at least beer at the zoo. We saw “tiger terrace” and assumed it was a place to sip and see tigers. Nope. Then we saw the “treehouse” for members only and though, “Sweet, the zoo must have a special place for its members to grab a drink between exhibits!” Nope. The treehouse was filled with kids and smelled like feet. Ok, so no booze at the zoo. Back to fit mom food finds…

Camden’s Adventure Aquarium has some weak options for the fit mom at the Feeding Frenzy Cafe – carrot sticks, veggie burgers, salad. But for the hassle that it is to get a table during peak hours (I guess that’s why it has the name feeding frenzy), the stress of getting out of the lunch line without fruit punch and a $4 octopus straw for the kids, I’d suggest skipping this lunch spot if at all possible. 2/10

Sesame Place is a fit mom’s nightmare. The food for the kids is terrible and choices for adults are not much better. They’ve improved slightly in recent years adding some salads and some sort of veggie wrap to some of the cafes. However, the supply of these items has been limited when I’ve been there, and it took forever to get one made fresh for me. Also minus one star for sticking the elmo cupcakes at kids eye level before they get to the food.  4/10

Sister Cities Park – foodie finds aside, if you haven’t checked out SCP you need to get there ASAP. It is a sweet little park on the Ben Franklin Pkwy on Logan Square and within walking distance from the Franklin Institute and Academy of Natural Sciences. I first discovered this because my son’s soccer practice was there (unbelievable that they made the tiny little grass area into a perfect little soccer field with an amazing view). There is the Discovery Garden consisting of a wading pool with a little “river” that runs down a little hill that kids can climb all over like a natural landscape playground. They also sell little wooden boats for kids to send down the the river. Now that it’s chilly, they’ve turned the wading pool into a “Discovery Playground” or a mini construction site with large soft building blocks.  Oh, and back to food. SCP has the Logan Square Cafe with fabulous options for the fit mom. Think Portuguese Kale soup, salads, egg white veggie omelets with whole grain toast. And great options for the kids if they aren’t foodies (mac ‘n cheese, grilled cheese, popcorn). Plus, the cafe is all windows allowing for a great view of all the goings on outside of the cafe. I give this lil cafe a 10/10 for convenience, atmosphere and healthy options.

What are some of you favorite fit mom foodie finds at “kid places” in the Philly area? Where would like me to visit and review next?

21 Days to a Healthier (and Hotter) Holiday Season

Next month I’m running a special holiday survival boot camp with two other coaches (one of whom is my coach and mentor!). It’s a little different format from my standard group but I think it will be much more appropriate and timely for not only maintaining during the holiday season but  getting more fit and fabulous!

It’s a 21-day accountability, health and fitness challenge (FREE, Secret Group on Facebook) to focus on healthy habits you can adopt, maintain and use to survive the hectic season when it’s easy to skip workouts and overindulge during parties (and find every other excuse not to work out or eat on plan).

We’re starting the group the Monday after Thanksgiving with an optional three day cleanse. This isn’t your typical cleanse… You get to eat real food!!! Think of it as a way to refresh your body after some poor decisions during thanksgiving and get back on track with your nutrition. I’ll be doing it too!

Whether or not you’re cleansing with us you’ll get the fun and support of three amazing coaches (haha, if I do say so myself), the group, and daily tips to keep you on track to reach your goals.

Let me know if you’re interested in (1) joining the holiday survival boot camp and / or (2) would like info on the cleanse.

Let’s do this holiday season!!! December: we’re not your bitches!! ;0

Fit Mom, Fabulous Snacks

Graze, the weekly snack delivery service, is the perfect way for the busy fit Mom to keep a variety of fabulous emergency snacks on hand to grab and go.  My first delivery (last week) gave me the Christmas morning goonies from the packaging to the selection. Here’s a sneak peek.
A few weeks ago, a co-worker showed me his Graze delivery  and I was immediately hooked. The packaging was simple and fabulous. The four snacks in the box were neatly individually packed and consisted of super creative combos without being weird. I immediately took his referral code and logged into the Graze website. I learned that by using his referral code I would get my 1st and 5th box free. Score! The individual boxes were a modest $6.99 including delivery. About the price of a yogurt but way more exciting per snack.
I checked out the selection so I could deselect anything I didn’t want. The only thing I am not a huge fan of is walnuts so I searched “walnuts” and then indicated “trash” for these. Everything else in my queue currently says “try.”
I got my first graze delivery last week and was immediately pleased with the selection. Of course, I’m a sucker for packaging and having things delivered to me that others pick out (ahem, Stitch Fix) so I was especially pleased. And I am also a huge fan of that Christmas Morning Equivalent Experience, that you get when something is picked out for you by someone else (see my stitch fix posts for more on CMEE). Anyway, back to Graze. I couldn’t chow down on my snacks immediately because I had made myself roasted pumpkin seeds and mini omelets for snacks for that week so it took me some time to work through this box of four.
  • My Thai sweet chili sauce with baked soy bites. These were delicious and reminded me of those crunchy noodles and duck sauce that you get at Chinese restaurants. The sauce had a slightly spicier and more complex taste than duck sauce (I really had to hold myself back from getting all up in the sauce with my tongue once I finished the soy crisps). The soy crisps were really tasty! They were like a more crunchy and flavorful rice cake. The portion was surprisingly satisfying. I think there were about 6 crisps in there, and if I had an entire bag of them in front of me they would have been gone within 10 minutes so I’m thankful for the portion control aspect of Graze. This snack was only 80 calories and 1 gram of fat – perfect for someone trying to keep snacks under 100 calories. I shoot for around 150 calories for my snacks since I workout daily. So I just added an apple with this and felt perfectly satisfied until dinner.  All in all I rate My Thai– LOVE (highest rating on Graze’s four point scale).
  • Raspberry Coconut Muffin — amaretti drops, raspberry infused cranberries, almond slices and coconut flakes.  This one was a little tricky to eat by hand due to the little, delicate  shaved almonds and coconuts but that doesn’t change my feelings towards it. It was such a delicious and satisfying treat. Not going to lie when I saw that it was 140 calories and would be my entire snack for the afternoon, I was worried. But with two grams of fiber, no sodium, (and um, a whopping 8 grams of fat, likely from the almonds which are a fat burning, cholesterol-reducing source of protein) it actually was the perfect size. I guess it was the kick of protein from the almonds that really made this filling enough to hold me over through dinner. I was literally licking the container clean once I picked out all the big pieces. And the combination of dried raspberries and the little Amaretti nuggets was so indulgent and perfect for a little sweet snack. I think we have another LOVE here!!
  • Black pepper pistachios — roasted pistachios with black pepper.  This snack has 100 calories and a 10 (!) grams of fat (but super healthy fat since we’re doing nuts here. Pistachios are an excellent source of copper, manganese, and B6 and a good source of thiamin and phosphorus.) And, well, we had a little mishap here.  I was saving these in-the-shell pistachios to eat outside at my son’s soccer practice. When I got home from work the other day, my husband had eaten them (ARGH!) So, based on his review — they were perfectly delicious and filling.  He gave them a LOVE!!
  • Tutti frutti — blueberry infused cranberries, pineapple pieces, cherry infused raisins and green raisins. This snack had no protein in it so I planned to have a string cheese with it (which I actually forgot the day I planned to eat it). That said, even without the protein it was really satisfying and very tasty. It was like a grown up version of a box of raisins. The dried pineapple was a nice little treat although mine only has two (although large) pieces. The yellow raisins were plump and juicy.  In my typical diet, I usually skip dried fruit except maybe a tiny sprinkling in a salad due to its high calories (this snack had 110 calories, no fat, and 2g of fiber.) That said, this was a nice change from my typical nut based snacks. I rate this one a LIKE (second highest after love on the four point scale) since if I LOVE everything I sort of love nothing.
So all in all — I would say I LOVE LOVE LOVE Graze. I have another package waiting for me at the office and I can’t wait to explore it and tell you about it.  If you want to give Graze a try, check out the website (https://www.graze.com/us/p/7KQVJ6RFU) and use my referral code (7KQVJ6RFP) to get your 1st and 5th delivery for free.

Shakeology: from Skeptic to Devotee

Ok, I’ll admit it: I was a Shakeology skeptic. That is, until I tried it for myself. Here’s some straight talk about the benefits, nutrition, ingredients and expense of Shakeology.

When I first started doing challenge groups more than a year ago, there were a bunch of people doing Shakeology for breakfast everyday. It not only seemed boring (the same thing for breakfast EVERY DAY??) but we were all so focused on healthy clean eating… How could something so… Not only not whole but….powdered actually be healthy? I was eating some great healthy breakfasts (Greek yogurt oatmeal parfaits, mini omelets) why change a good thing?

Then I decided to buy my first Beachbody workout, Focus T25. I learned the challenge pack was on sale which meant for the price of a one month supply of Shakeology, I would also get T25 essentially free. So I decided to give it a try and see if it really did what they said it would do: reduce food cravings, help build muscle, and aid in digestion.

Well first off, it was delicious. I got the chocolate and it seriously tasted like a chocolate milkshake… But not so rich that it would be too much for the morning.  And, well, it really did satisfy my cravings. Those who work in my office know that we have a chocolate “drawer” — yes, and entire drawer filled with any treat you can image (I guess it sort of makes sense when you figure the candy for the candy dish would need to come from somewhere!) That said, the chocolate drawer was my enemy. It was located just past my office on the way to the bathroom and water cooler. Anytime I got up from my desk it was calling my name. Some days, I’d grab a handful of Hershey minis. Other days I’d be more selective and choose one dove dark chocolate. Then there were times when I would announce to everyone within earshot that the chocolate drawer was “off limits” and as of that moment they should feel free to use physical force to keep me out of the drawer. A co-worker came up with a code word, “banana,” which she would yell every time she saw me going in the drawer. It was meant to remind me that I didn’t want that chocolate. Or, maybe I wanted that chocolate but I wanted to be fit more.  It didn’t work. I spent a lot of time in that drawer.

This is going to sound completely hokey but when I started drinking Shakeology the drawer stopped calling my name. It’s like it realized we were never ever getting back together. It wasn’t immediately at first sip but over time these cravings decreased. I didn’t even notice it happened until I think back on it because it wasn’t a conscious decision. The drawer stopped harassing me and I stopped letting it control me.

The Snack Drawer at my Office = EmeAs far as after dinner temptation, I’m more of a wine person. Occasionally, though, the kids’ dessert would tempt me and I’d pig out. Now that I’m on Shakeology I know that a delicious chocolate shake is just one sleep away.  This makes those little missteps easier to pass up.

As my daily breakfast, Shakeology actually  fills me up until my mid-morning  snack. This shocked me. All this time eating hearty heavy breakfasts,  I could have this shake on the go and actually be satisfied for a few hours.  That’s the main difference between Shakeology and a lot of smoothies. To get the amount of protein and other nutrients  as in Shakeology you need to be adding a lot, actually a ton, of other ingredients to get the same level of nutrition as one Shakeology. But more about nutrition in a minute and back to my morning benefits. I stopped needing coffee.

I’ve always needed my morning coffee before I could get moving. In my college dorm room I used to brew that Folgers coffee in the tea bag. I get a little nauseous now when I think about it because it tasted nasty – but I physically needed coffee before I could get dressed and out the door. (I really wish we had Keurigs back then.)

Fast forward to college to more recent years. I used to have a couple of cups of coffee at home before leaving for work plus a travel cup along for my commute. Once at work, I would drink coffee until noon then switch to water.

Something happened when I started having Shakeology for breakfast. It was not intentional but my coffee intake decreased. I looked forward to my morning shake even while drinking my first small cup of coffee. I always have my Shakeology before my second cup of coffee. Sometimes I didn’t want or need a second cup! I could move right onto water from my shake.

I’ve been a whole foods/ clean eating fanatic for about ten years now. I rarely shop in the inner aisles of the grocery store and make the majority of my condiments and dressings from scratch. So of course using a pre-made shake mix went against everything I believe in. But I read the ingredient list  and saw that the shake comes from whole ingredients – superfoods not found in most supermarkets and not possible to get from one meal. The highlights:

super protein blend (including chia, quinoa, brown rice, flax seeds) builds lean muscles, improves skin and hair, mental clarity and reduces cravings

super fruit/antioxidant blends (including acai, gogi berry, green tea, grape seed) provides antioxidant support and promotes a healthy heart and optimal blood pressure

super-green/phytonutrient blend (including spinach, spirulina, wheat grass) helps alkalize the body and promotes detoxification of the liver, kidneys and blood to restore health and vitality

adaptogen blend (including ginkgo, maitake, maca) helps protect the body from stress, support the immune system, and balance the endocrine system

pre- and pro-biotic/digestive enzyme blend (including lactobacillus, lactase, lipase) helps increase nutrient absorption, promotes regularity and improves digestion

Check out this hilarious video with Tony Horton of P90x fame checking out a customer at the grocery store who is buying all the individual ingredients to make something equivalent to Shakeology. Which leads me to price.

I was hesitant about paying for Shakeology what seemed pretty exorbitant for one meal a day. As a finance person by trade, I did the math. A daily Shakeology was a little over $4 a day. That’s less than coffee and an egg sandwich from Dunkin Donuts. It is the same price venti beverage from Starbucks! (And much more nutritious.) But how does it compare to my (at the time go to nutritious breakfast) greek yogurt oatmeal parfait?. It’s just about equivalent. In order to meet my nutritional requirements I was adding chia seeds, fresh fruit, extracts, Greek yogurt, almond milk, and coming up short in nutrition, way more in calories, and about the same price as compared to Shakeology. This doesn’t even take into account the discount I would get as a Beachbody coach! (As a coach, I’m saving about a dollar per day on my Shakeology.)

So now to the less measurable data – how I felt and how my body looked! Now I can’t attribute all of this to Shakeology because at the same time I was working out a few to several times a week, cutting out alcohol beverages and eating very clean… But I felt great. More stamina in my workouts, while not losing weight at first I was getting smaller (more muscle!) and overall feeling great. I was also having a skin irritation that wouldn’t go away even with cutting out makeup and using sensitive skin care. It cleared up within 3 weeks of starting  Shakeology. And I won’t go into too much detail here but became more “regular”. ‘Nough said.

So what are you waiting for? It’s backed by Beachbody’s money back guarantee! Contact me for a free sample and you can taste it for yourself!

Anticipation Station

I hate surprises. It’s actually become a joke with my friends after the baby shower at work in which the decoy was a meeting I supposedly having with the vice dean. I did a ton of prep for the meeting and when I got to the shower I looked around, confused like “really, when is the actual meeting?”

When I was little, I knew where my mom hid the Christmas presents and would unwrap them just enough to see what they were. I still enjoyed receiving and opening them even if not surprised by what they were on Christmas morning.

When there is a new Les Mills Body Pump or Body Combat release coming out, I always check out the reviews, playlist and Google any songs I don’t know well in advance of release date. Most of the time I’ve never heard any of the songs so this research doesn’t really serve me well, yet I continue to do it four times a year.

My monthly stitch fix ritual makes complete sense to me given this history. Each month I get an email from stitch fix that says “Linda, your fix has shipped!” Each month, I immediately go to the stitch fix website and pretend to check out so I can see what the five items are in my fix. I usually Google them to see images of what’s in store for me. I would say a lot of the time the images I find online don’t impress me as much as the actual pieces when they arrive in the mail. I’m more of a solids gal, so generally the patterns scare me a little when I see them online. But so far, I would estimate that 80% of the time I’ve really enjoyed even the patterns once I got them in person. In some cases, it may have been subtle nuances of the pattern (last month had a mixed media sweater with a pattern in a sheer fabric across the front). What I couldn’t see online was the pale pink in the pattern that was stunning when paired with my blush colored skinny jeans. There was an orange shift dress with a steel grey chevron pattern. I assumed this would be way too busy for me to ever consider keeping. Once I tried it on, the soft fabric and beautiful three quarter bell sleeves plus a belt to break it up a little made this dress a keeper.

Yet, month after month I log in, “check out” my soon to arrive fix, and am not overjoyed by the items on their way… only to be pleasantly surprised when they arrive. Wait, did I just say I enjoy the surprise? Or could it be that exceeding my original expectations is pleasing to me?

So here I am anxiously awaiting the Christmas morningish experience of opening my fix when it arrives.  I have previewed my five items and am not excited about any of them. Which means that I will likely love four of the five if my 80-20 rules plays out as it has historically. I asked my stylist specifically for a Moto jacket this fix. This Moto was on the way, but wasn’t quite what a I picturing in my head. A little frumpy maybe? Well, I guess I’ll have to wait and see up close and in person.

As I wrote this post a few different ideas flowed through my head trying to analyze my stated distaste for surprises. I obviously like the element of the pleasant surprise. Is it a need for instant gratification? I don’t think so since I like knowing what is coming but don’t need to have it that moment. Could it be that I truly enjoy the anticipation? Let’s go with that… I’m anxiously anticipating my November fix!

Fast Forward to November 6th
So it came and three of the five were keepers. The two returns were the Moto jacket: the sleeves were made for someone with giraffe arms and was just too baggy in some parts and too lose in others. Plus it was pleather, in a really bad way. Other return was a quite pretty sheer top with a back pleat. The pattern was mauve (strike one) that looked sort of like lace but wasn’t (strike two on lace and lace -looking pattern), the fit was so strange- it was huge in the top (neckline and sleeves) actually perfect on the hips. I am a bit pear shaped but you would have to be pretty broad and well endowed on top to fit properly. The keepers were awesome. I asked specifically for some fun casual wear for my trip to DC over Thanksgiving. I got exactly that! A pair of black high-waisted textured skinny pants that fit perfectly. A nice foundation piece with a little flair in the texture. A cute crew neck sweater with skinny stripes of autumn colors. And a blackish brown, soft thin weave infinity scarf. This last piece was one that I wasn’t excited about during anticipation station    You don’t get much more boring than an infinity scarf in a basic neutral color. But this was gorgeous and perfect weight for fall.

So we hit 3/5 on this fix… Not quite my 80% rule but close enough for me! How about you?  Do you cheat and peek at your fixes before they arrive?

Yoga was my Gateway to Fitness

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. –Lao Tzu

While in my 20s, I tried yoga a couple of times. It drove me crazy. The breathing, the laying there, the sort of doing something physical but not getting sweaty. I felt like if I was going to take the time to put on athletic gear I might as well sweat.

Fast forward September 2013. At the time I had been working out routinely twice a week (cardio step and body pump). I felt like if I could squeeze one more workout in per week I’d be at an every other day schedule and would maybe break plateau. Being in my 40s, I was feeling a lot of aches and pains in new places and thought the yoga might stretch me out a little bit.  And, I was super stressed-out between work and kids. Not only did I need a little Saturday morning time out of the house, I needed a way to de-stress. I had tried to do some mindfulness/breathing and just couldn’t sit still long enough to do it. If I could sort of kill two birds with one stone (breathing/ mindfulness plus the physical aspect of a workout) it would be a great use of my precious “me” time. Moms are such great multi-taskers aren’t we? Ok, and in full disclosure, the Athleta catalog came in the mail and was captured by the yoga poses and clothes so I also wanted to find a little bit of a reason to get some yoga / to-fro outfits. (Keeping it real here).

I signed up for Shanti Yoga Shala in Philadelphia’s gayborhood. I had walked past it a few times and it didn’t look super intimidating, they had a bowl of green apples sitting out in the waiting room, and Tria was across the street for afternoon wine tasting (and yes, actually did some yoga-then-wine with my sister a few times).  I signed up for my first class on a Sunday morning with Larry. I was the first one there and lied when he asked me if I was new to yoga (I mean, it was maybe a little exaggeration of the truth, I did yoga a few times on my xbox workout game in 2004). Now that I’ve been doing yoga regularly 1-2 times per week for over a year now, I think back to those classes with Larry and realize that we were doing pretty standard sun salutation flows. So I’m pretty sure it was obvious that I had no clue what I was doing. That said, it didn’t feel weird. No one was looking at me or noticing me. Larry came over and corrected some positions, but these adjustments didn’t hurt my perfectionist ego. They made my practice richer, I felt the poses more deeply and really felt a connection to the other yogis and the practice in a way I didn’t realize was possible. This isn’t to say that my first few classes were a breeze and all joy. They were hard. I sweat (and this wasn’t even hot yoga!). I was sore the next day like I would be after an actual workout. I was dying to know how anyone could possibly find downward dog relaxing. A few times I wished I hadn’t had that lentil soup the night before. At least 10 times per class I needed to move my brain off of my to-do list and back to my breathing. And I hated laying still for savasana. But I kept coming back to my mat each week. I tried new poses, pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, and downward dog indeed became a rest pose between multiple planks and side planks. Savasana became a true respite after a challenging workout and before entering into the stress of the rest of my day.

My husband started to notice a difference in my stress levels and noticed I talked about yoga like a “real” workout. He’s a runner and has some arthritis stuff so his doctor recommended yoga. He joined me for a class after I had been going for a few months. I immediately realized about one minute into the first class that there were things Mike was going to hate … Ugh, and there it was… the triple “om.” Then, Larry started reading something about chakras  (and I could almost feel Mike’s eyes rolling back into his head). But after that intro, he liked it! He really liked it! Although, being really into my own practice, I was not into what he was doing. I now understood why I felt so accepted my first practice. I now understood the principle so clearly: in yoga you are competing against yourself. Your mind is the only thing in the way of reaching your goals. Whatever is going on around you doesn’t matter.  Oh, then it happened. (Back to Mike’s first class). Larry did the “ear thing” as we settled into savasana. Mike hates having his ear touched. But he survived and fell asleep, snoring through the remainder of our rest.

So that became our thing: Saturday morning yoga dates. My physicality was improving and we were starting to “get good” at yoga. We decided to move from Shanti to something a little more athletic. So we went to Philly Power Yoga (aka: philly yoga factory). This was a true hot power yoga class. It was fucking hard. I had no idea yoga could be such an intense workout!  I’m thankful for those early months with Larry where I had the opportunity to perfect my form and could push past my limits in this heavily physical activity. The culture at PPY was totally at opposite ends of the spectrum from Shanti. First of all, we went from a 4-6 person class to 30 (+?) yogis packed in tightly, no adjustments from the instructor, and hot hot hot room. Super hot.  The clientele was less hippy-dippy and much more young professionals.  We were probably the oldest people in the class. It was sort of a pain the ass for us to get there. We had to take two subways with enough of an annoyance factor that made yoga a little stressful.

I was on a mission to find a new power yoga class for us, that worked for our schedule and wasn’t “too hot” (Mike’s request). So we found Anjali Power Yoga. These classes were just as intense but in a more intimate setting. My power yoga was reaching new levels (and my shoulders were looking hottttt from all the chaturangas!) at this point, I was working out five times a week, sometimes six doing body combat, body pump and piyo. Power yoga, while very physical, was a great break for my mind and for my muscles. I was doing body combat and body pump twice a week and these muscles needed to stretch.

Occasionally, I like to try a new studio just to see what else is out there. My favorite studio where I don’t have a pass is Focus Barre and Yoga. It was there that I did my first crow pose (when the teacher told me to lean forward until I think “shit, I’m going to fall in my head.”)  It was there where I held king dancer for the full count and balanced from eagle pose to airplane to standing split. I guess something about going outside your typical studio and leaving your comfort zone gives you even more power to try new things.

That confidence has given me the courage to try new workouts that I would never had tried without this new confidence. I figured there wasn’t much that could embarrass me much after my first yoga class. I saw the progress that I could make just by going, just being present, and doing the best I could each week.

We are still doing our weekend yoga dates, although, our favorite instructor is not teaching the Saturday morning class anymore. We are still in search of the perfect Philly studio that’s not “too hot” (still Mike’s request). I am still practicing to be completely present on my mat, try as hard as I can each class, and push myself outside of my comfort zone a little more each time.

Fit Data (for math nerds, and non-math nerds)

At work, I strongly believe in using data to validate hypotheses,  measure success, and provide foundation for future assumptions.  I’m not sure why it took so long for me to recognize that principle and use good data and/or evidence to measure success with my fitness goals.

All those years, I had it wrong.  I relied on the scale no realizing that the scale is a terrible measurement tool.   I love weight watchers and lost a lot of weight on it – so I’m not knocking the principle that you need to regularly check in against your goals with DATA, but I am knocking the method of measurement that the scale provides.  On weight watchers, there were weeks where I didn’t eat breakfast or keep up with my usual water intake – for the sake of wanting a “good weigh in.”  A good friend turned me on to “smooth move” tea, which helped me, um, clear things out before weigh in.  I recognize these are ridiculous little rituals, sort of like football players who don’t shave for the season or change their underwear.  Seeing results on the scale is what would motivate me to keep “at it” so in doing these little things to see results helped to keep me motivated.  Back in my weight watchers days, I wasn’t really working out much so the scale was a decent measurement tool at the time because I wasn’t building muscle anyway.

When I started doing body pump and power yoga, I started running into problems with my measurement tool. I was weighing myself weekly but the scale wasn’t budging.  I was frustrated that despite the healthy eating and three times a week workouts the scale wasn’t moving down… and sometimes even moved up!  This derailed my progress because I felt like I was doing as much as I could — at that time — and not seeing results.

Eventually, Jillian, my body pump coach, invited me to participate in a 21 day fitness group just before Thanksgiving in 2013.  I had been working out consistently for about 11 months at that point but the results I wanted to see were not happening (i.e. the scale wasn’t moving). I thought the challenge group would help me fine tune whatever it was that was preventing me form losing weight.  I really wish I took “before” pictures as Jillian encouraged at the start of the group.  But I was afraid to see my body – to really see it. By January 2014 as I began my third challenge group, I was so proud of my progress, I took a pictures. I wasn’t a huge fan of how I looked but I was a huge fan of my progress. I took just one and didn’t share it with anyone.

By August 2014, at the end of Jillian’s summer challenge group (and my 6th challenge group as a participant) – I posed while my mom took my pictures. She had the January picture up on the computer to make sure I duplicated the pose. She kept looking back and forth between me and the picture. I thought my pose was different and she was going to have me correct my stance. Instead, she said “Your belly! It’s not touching your arm!!” We were pretty excited and did a bunch of poses (of course I needed to show off my shoulders – I don’t think I’ve ever had muscles in my shoulders like this!) I would never had recognized the progress that i made on my back and shoulders had it not been for taking pictures because I don’t typically have the view of my body at that angle. Interestingly, at that point I was still only down about 9 pounds but the difference was incredible in the pictures.

A related sidebar, I’ve already covered the benefits of strength training and building muscle in my “Strong Mind, Strong Body” post.  Or, if you wish, the cliff-notes version:

not only is a pound of muscle smaller than a pound of fat, but your body burns more fat (as opposed to muscle and fat) while at rest for up to 48 hours after a strength training workout.

Needless to say, I’m a strong believer in the picture as a measurement tool/data point for progress.  I think a weekly (or say tri-weekly, like at the beginning and end of a 21 day challenge group 😉 picture will help you really look and analyze areas that you need to make changes, perhaps in your ab muscles, your inner thighs, or that little bit of flab between your arm and your chest.  The scale doesn’t show you those things, and not only that, it punishes you for getting stronger!!  I saw lots of progress on my back and shoulders but needed to see more results in my abs. So, I started doing more core work (and especially focusing on my core during body combat) and that extra bit of focus led to great results next time I took a picture.

Some tips on taking your first “before” picture:

  • Try and have someone else take the pictures for you, if you can.
  • Remember – these measurements and pictures are for you and you only – sometimes we don’t see a change in the numbers, but our bodies change for the better!  You don’t have to show anyone, but maybe you’ll want to once you have a hot new body to show off!
  • If you’re standing up against a solid background (and use the same solid background for your after pic), you’ll be able to focus on YOU and not whatever else is in the pic.
  • Wear swimwear or tight fitting workout wear.  This is the best way to see the changes that have happened in your body!  Show as much of your body as is comfortable. Also wear something you don’t hate.  I hate the shorts I’m wearing in my first set of before pics but I continue to wear them across all my pictures for consistency.
  • Take the photos from many angles. A front view, side view, back view and at a twist. You can put your hands at your sides, on your hips, even flexing in the air! Just make sure that you have before/after photos in the same pose so you can accurately see your transformation! I wish I took a before picture, and when I finally did take one, I wish I took a few more angles.  I tried to get in and out as fast as I can but now I have nothing to document the transition in my back and shoulders!

Another good measurement tool is using an old fashion measuring tape and get measurements on your various body parts.  I found this method tricky because you need to measure in the same place consistently. You can either pick a “landmark” such as your belly button for your waist, or just always measure on the largest part (then you know if the largest part is getting smaller, you’re getting smaller!)  Here are some measurement guidelines:

Arms: 6 inches from tip of shoulder (or widest part)
Chest: At nipple line
Waist: Smallest point (or at belly button)
Hips: Largest point
Thighs: 6 inches from in-seam (or at widest part)

You may be wondering why if I’m seeing so much progress I’m not posting my pictures here…. I will, in time, but for now they are are for me and me alone.

911 Emergency Snacks

Before I made an active decision to be fit for life, being out and about, busy, short on time, out with the kids, or at home with the kids would be an excuse to make poor decisions that would take me off plan. Going off plan didn’t usually mean for that one unhealthy decision though, it would mean being off plan for the rest of that day, weekend or week.

Staying fit in my kitchen and out of it meant that I needed to “think fit” for every meal, snack and situation. This meant being prepared with emergency snacks that would not only be there for me when I needed them but also satisfied whatever temptation I may face ahead of me during the emergency.  The requirements of these ESs would be to be yummy enough that I would actually want to eat it over, say, a bag of chips at the soccer field, but not so good that I am able to keep it around and not be so excited about it that I binge out when not really hungry. Also, they would obvi need to be healthy and contain some protein to sustain the fullness. Ideally these snacks are portable (can handle being tossed around in my purse for a few hours while on the go) and would be under 200 calories.

I thought about the specific times that I would need these emergency snacks: at work when feeling rushed between meetings or stressed out; at night before dinner while prepping the kids’ dinners; weekend mornings before and during the kids activities; at night between dinner and bed.

So the work snacks were easy. We have a fridge and a microwave so my options were pretty flexible. I needed to make myself a promise that I would only eat the food I brought to the office. The snack drawer, chocolate dish, and baked good brought into the beverage area were off limits. Next I needed to be prepared with healthy filling snacks to make sure my appetite was satisfied all day. For morning, between breakfast and lunch, I usually bring two mini omelets. It’s a nice kick of protein to sustain me through my lunchtime workout and has a breakfasty feel to it, since I love breakfast foods but usually only have time for (and depend on) my morning shakeology. Afternoons are usually a fruit (whatever is in season: apples, melons, berries) and usually a piece of light string cheese, mini baby bel, etc). I know myself well enough to know that I need the cheese pre-portioned and pre-packaged so I’m not tempted to taste while portioning myself or to over do it on the portions. I also know that I look forward to my fruit. I’ve been ambitious and tried to do veggies and hummus but I ultimately don’t want veggies for my snack. If I want to look forward to it, it needs to be fruit and cheese. Then there are those times at work when I just need to get up from my desk, stretch out and clear my mind. In the past I would stop at the chocolate drawer (yes, we actually have a chocolate drawer!!) as I walked around and cleared my brain. I wasn’t typically hungry, I was either stressed, frustrated or just needed to stretch. So now, if it’s not snack time and that feeling is coming over me, I get some green tea. It always works to satisfy my fake hunger and tide me over to my next meal or snack. It also gives me the opportunity to get up from my desk for a few minutes.

I try to eat my afternoon snack around 4:30, so when I get home at 6ish I’m not starving while getting the kids’ dinner ready. If I’m feeling hungry I usually am not actually hungry but tempted by their food. So, first thing I do when I get home i pour myself delicious herbal water. Then if I recognize that I really am hungry I will have a few nuts or share an apple with the kids with a touch of peanut butter. I usually don’t need this though because I’m not actually hungry, I’m still satisfied from my protein rich afternoon snack!

After dinner but before bed, again, I’m usually not hungry. My body just wants wine or dessert. I solve this with some herbal tea (sleepy time vanilla or tazo calm) in my fancy tea kettle and cup.

Next, I sorted out my weekends. I typically find myself rushing around between kid activities and play dates then am suddenly HANGRY! I solve this by making sure I have lunch before leaving house. If I’m really strapped for time, I’ll have shakeology for lunch because I can take it on the go. Then, I always always always have a couple of bars in my bag (kind or chia) and if I’ll be out for awhile I bring some portable fruit like an apple. I always have my water bottle with me (and sometimes infused water if i think I’ll be tempted with other drinks like lemonade or starbucks while out and about).

An added benefit (not intentional) was in my wallet… Not spending money at the cafe by my son’s soccer field, I’m bringing my own food and saving money and my waistline.

As as I wrote this post, I was introduced to a super fun snack delivery service called Graze — think of it as stitch fix for fit snackers. Use my code (7KQVJ6RFE) at graze.com/us to get your first box of tasty and inspired snacks for free!  I’ll post a review once I receive my first box!

Time to share … What’s your go-to emergency snack?