Think Zinc!

I’ll admit it – I’m one of those people who has a whole cupboard full of vitamins but only remembers to take them when I’m feeling particularly blah. It’s like going to confession to have my sins absolved or flossing before the dentist. Mentally, one good day reverses three months of neglect… right?

But as you know – minerals and vitamins are pretty important. Even though we are eating wholesome and healthy foods, there are certain things we don’t get enough of. I like to think of vitamins are naturopathic cures – especially when it comes to things like nails, skin, hair, etc. I’d rather tackle those problem areas from the inside-out rather than slather on expensive creams and potions that have dubious results. Yes, I’ve rubbed collagen on my inner thighs and massaged caffeine into my neck jowls. Turns out, it doesn’t do much good in the long run. Most of it sits on the surface and sloughs off with our skin cells.

So I was reading about Zinc and it’s effects on skin problems – especially acne. You know how they put zinc oxide in some acne creams? Well, turns out you can get it naturally in food and reap the same (if not better) results. Biology 101 – Zinc will stimulate the production of collagen and white blood cells. This helps bolster your skin’s defenses, smooth old scars, and fight any infections hiding out in your pores. It also normalizes your production of skin oils and testosterone, both of which – unbalanced – can lead to funky breakouts.

Zinc has a ton of other great effects too. Your taste and smell receptors use zinc, as well as the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory and concentration. It can help you fight colds by boosting your immune cells and reducing (nerd word alert) cytokine responses, which cause inflammation and that overall BLEH feeling you get when you’re sick. Zinc protects our DNA from breaking down when our cells divide, which is super important for pregnant mommies with growing buns in the oven.

For those of us who are dieting, we may be neglecting some of the most zinc-rich foods, red meat in particular. However, there are plenty of healthy options available:

  1. Seafood – especially cooked oysters and lobster, as long as you can take it without the drawn butter (who can tho?).  It has twice the amount of Zinc as red meat though and all those other health benefits.
  2. Spinach – reigns on as king of the superfoods!
  3. Cashews – this is one of my go-to snacks, even though they have high fat content, it’s like eating an avocado.
  4. Dark Chocolate – omfg yass this IS a diet food I promise (in moderation). Antioxidants are the best excuse ever.
  5. Chickpeas – one of the healthier bean choices. They make great additions to soups and salads but are are heaven in chana masala.
  6. Pumpkin Seeds – if you can manage to eat a cup of them (without salt) you’ll get 44% of your daily value of zinc
  7. Toasted Wheat Germ – It may sound gross but it’s an O.G. superfood. Basically, it’s the good part of wheat that’s not starch and fiber. Buy it as a food additive. Use it to substitute half the flour when baking, sprinkle it on your yogurt or smoothies, use it when breading chicken or fish or as a crunchy topping for broiled veggies.

The target goal for adult males is 11 mg/day while adult females need only 8mg/day. If you are really low in zinc, animal sources are going to be your best bet. That’s one reason why vegans and vegetarians are at greatest risk for zinc deficiency. Symptoms of deficiency include poor wound healing, fatigue, hair loss, weird food cravings, poor concentration, worse PMS/menopause symptoms and low immunity.

Even if you’re not deficient, try rotating some zinc-rich foods into your diet and enjoy its many health boosting benefits. Be sure to let us know if you notice a difference in your complexion!

zinc-food

Healthy Chicken Avocado Caprese

I came up with this dish by throwing together random ingredients in my kitchen after watching Chopped.

The health benefits in this dish really come from the use of extra virgin olive oil and avocado to provide good fats, and chicken as a lean meat choice for protein. Tomatoes and basil give it that caprese flavor, and provide some rich antioxidants as well.

Using the avocado also means that, unlike a traditional caprese, you can have all of the smoothness and creaminess without adding dairy/cheese.

Easy, Quick and Yummy!

 

Ingredients (for 1 large serving or 2 small servings)

  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • About 30 Grape tomatoes
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Organic Brown Mustard
  • Lemon juice
  • Extra Vg. Olive Oil
  • Basil (fresh leaves ok, but I like using the dried flakes)
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 Medium and 1 Large Frying Pan
  • About 10 minutes

Directions

  1. Divide 1 tbsp of olive oil between two pans and spread to coat surfaces
  2. Add about 1tbsp lemon juice, 1 and 1/2 tbsp balsamic to large pan
  3. Sprinkle a generous amount of basil (2 tbsp flakes, or 2 handfuls chopped leaves)
  4. Add grape tomatoes to large pan
  5. Set large pan on Medium-Low temperature to start cooking
  6. Add 1tbsp of the mustard to medium pan and turn on heat to high
  7. Cube, salt and pepper the chicken
  8. Add chicken to medium pan and brown on medium-high heat
  9. Tip: After 1 side browns, flip pieces and reduce heat
  10. While that cooks, add the avocado to the large pan and increase heat to med-high. Stir everything together. If you smell a sharp tinge suddenly, the balsamic is burning. Reduce heat to medium.
  11. Once chicken is cooked, add to the large pan and stir contents together. Let sit for a minute on low heat so the flavors can come together.

 

caprese

 

 

Calorie Confusion: Either I Can’t Eat Enough, Or I’m Eating More Than I Think

You’ve adopted a monk-like devotion to your diet. You exercise for an hour a day. Every morning, you stand naked on the scale and pray that today will be the day… but the numbers don’t change. One day, it’s decimal points down and you’re dancing on a cloud in your skinny jeans. The next day, it’s decimal points back up and you plummet into a soul-crushing pit of defeat. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME??

For the first week of my diet, I lost about 8 pounds – and though that felt awesome, I knew it was mostly water. During the second week, I lost another 4 more. Then in the third, it stopped. Research said try a cheat day to kick your metabolism back into gear, so I went out for a steak on my birthday and lo and behold, the plateau broke – giving me another 2 pounds lost. Then, it sputtered to a halt and died once again.

This time, there was no resurrection. A cheat day did nothing. Changing up my exercise routine did nothing. Even altering the balance of carbs and proteins did nothing. I wasn’t losing weight, and to add injury to insult, I was putting undue stress on my body. For the first time in my life, I developed heart palpitations – a common side effect of physical stress, low calorie or electrolyte imbalances. I ran to the doctor and she told me not to worry. All my numbers looked good, my diet sounded incredible. I wasn’t dying. But I wasn’t losing weight either.

Am I Eating the Right Calories?

I started to really examine whether or not I was doing as good as I thought I was doing with the diet. My initial response to the low-cal stress-mode was to eat more calories. Unfortunately, there’s very few calories in vegetables… so that meant adding back in more starches and fruits.

I was also trying to emulate the Eat Fat Lose Fat/Ketogenic Diet/Paleo methods by banking on my good fats and proteins. I started cooking and eating salmon, despite a life long aversion to fish. I added extra virgin olive oil to everything. I bought iodized salt to support my thyroid and sprinkled it everywhere with wild abandon.

Then one morning, after one of those hellish 0.2 pound re-gains, I sat down with my calorie tracking app and really tried to figure out what was going on. Was I getting enough calories? Too many? The wrong kinds?

Am I Eating Enough Calories?

At first I was frustrated. After entering my planned meals and exercise for the day, I was still 750 calories below my 1200 goal. To compensate, I knocked an avocado off the menu and cancelled a workout class I’d been looking forward to all week. That got me to about 1100 calories, which is less than what they gave people in WW2 prison camps. I stared at the chart, wondering what I could possibly do differently.

The foods that compromised my meals were all extremely low cal. Salmon fillet. A can of spinach. A generous handful of turkey. A pile of bell peppers. All hovering around 100 calories each. I could eat those foods all day and it wouldn’t make a difference. The only way to get calories in was to eat carbs or more fats. But how??

Google landed me in a forum on calorie sources from fat, where posters mentioned avocados and almonds (of course)… but also olive oil. A lightbulb turned on. Oh crap, I hadn’t been counting in the olive oil I use in cooking. I wonder how many calories it has?

Apparently, a lot!

In fact, 1 tablespoon would give me 120 cals and 14g of fat – and I was probably using 2 if not more a day to cook my eggs, chicken and salmon. Here I was thinking it was just a condiment!

Am I Actually Counting All My Calories?

After adding olive oil into my daily food diary, I was surprised to find that now I was 300 calories over my goal! I considered adding back in the exercise, but I’d also read that sometimes, too much exercise can lead to inflammation and high cortisol levels. Catch 22 once more! So I started trying to see where else I could knock off calories.

I tend to snack on almonds throughout the day as my go-to buddy for curbing hunger pangs or boosting energy. For this menu, I’d packed a couple handfuls of almonds to take with me to a late-night rehearsal. This, surprisingly was the highest calorie meal of my day, clocking in at 273.

The calorie counter said 15 was about 100 calories – which seemed a lot more reasonable for a snack. So I poured the almonds back out of the baggie and counted out exactly 15. I was shocked. Fifteen almonds pales in comparison to what I thought fifteen almonds was.

almonds
What 15 almonds looks like… or 100 cal worth.

That means I’d probably been eating 300 calories of them by the handful every day. Of course, on days when I need a boost before a work out, that might be a good thing. Snacking on them at a 9pm music rehearsal? Not so much.

Hidden Calories and Diet Creep

I’ve read about diet creep – this idea that eventually you start to eat slightly more or worse as you continue your diet, even as you imagine you’re still on track. There’s also the notion of hidden calories – commonly found when people misuse toppings or additives, drink alcohol or sports drinks, or binge out on ‘healthy snacks’ made with whole grains or starchy vegetables. I wasn’t eating any of those, but I was still getting my counts wrong – and didn’t even realize it.

The solution was not to banish these foods from my diet, but to measure them for their true worth. Only then could I see the accurate picture: although I eating healthy, there was just the right amount of unhealthy to keep my body doing what it does best – maintaining its weight. If I wanted to lose weight, I’d have to go even further – and since I was already eating so low cal and working out, I’d have to go after the most elusive of my calories in order to find a deficit.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.38.08 AM
The final menu…

 

 

 

Workout Slump Solutions

Click here to read the original question: “Dear Laur, Help! I’m in a workout slump!”

Dear Meg,

With the amount of money I’ve spent on unused gym memberships, I could probably solve our national debt crisis. So believe me, I understand the ins and outs of the workout slump. Fortunately, that also means I’ve spent a LOT of time getting around the slump – and so I’ve got some ideas that might help you too.

First off – yes, hitting the gym after work is not as fun as the fitness elite make it sound. No, it’s not really a “great way to relieve stress after a busy day.” Really, it’s just a barrier between me and the demand-free nirvana of just being “done.” A really great way to relieve stress after a busy day is sitting on the couch not moving a muscle until Netflix asks me if I’m still watching.

The way I solved this was by getting the bulk of my workouts in over my lunch break, but this is not feasible for most people – especially if you don’t work near a gym, can’t eat at your desk, and have to look somewhat presentable and not smell bad for the rest of the day.

When I do try to fit my fitness in after work, it’s usually through a more routine activity – in my case, dance. I have a 90 minute tap/jazz/ballet class on Monday night and a two hour tap/jazz class on Thursday night. Working towards getting better at our routines is a goal that keeps me motivated. Plus, I look forward to seeing the girls each week. It’s like book club, but a lot sweatier. Having a smaller tight-knit group helps you avoid the meh feeling of just being an anonymous body in a gym crowd, where no one would really miss you if you weren’t there.

So in your case, rather than bouncing from gym to gym through Class Pass, you might want to find one place to call home. More importantly, you might want to make that place on the way home, so you don’t end up wasting time in transit. You’ll be home sooner, which means more time to unwind from the day.

Another consideration is the kind of fitness activity you do. Variety is important, but if motivation is your issue, consistency is key. I like to feel like I’m working towards something specific, rather than just passing the time or getting through my daily gym duty. When I’m at dance, the goal is obvious. So for the rest of the week, I keep dance in mind. Cardio is going to improve my stamina so I can keep my energy up through the whole routine. Strengthening is going to give me more sculpted lines and postures, higher grand battements, deeper plies. I have no delusions of joining the Royal Ballet, but it still feels really good to see myself making progress as I do the same activity over time.

 

You’re an athlete. You know the feeling. Think of how crowded your life was back in college, with a full day of classes and then another several hours of practice. Back then you got through it because you weren’t just running in circles (unless track was your thing). You were trying to impress a coach, land a better position, become a better athlete. All you have to do now is tap back into your competitive edge and find an activity that allows you to challenge your inner beast. Even if there’s no team to join, use your imagination if you have to. The most important thing is that you feel empowered rather than enslaved by your workout.

Now – I will say that despite your best efforts, there will be days when your gym commitment is underwhelming or nonexistent. I have those days too. They are often the fallout of work and life colliding like an interminable jackhammer. On those days, once dinner is done, the dishes are put away, the counter is clean and the cat has been fed, I allow my guilt to push me towards one last day-ending strive for body justice. The at-home workout.

I used to do the workout DVDs… you know, Billy Blanks, P90x. That was only when I was on the ground floor apartment. Doing jumping jacks and burpees are bad enough without thinking about how your downstairs neighbors are hearing every elephantine footfall.

Now, I seek the privacy of my stairwell. I put on my Pandora “Dance 2016” Station (club music… gotta love it) and then get in about 20 minutes of jogging up and down the stairs. In between sets, I have a little fun on the landings by crunking and twerking and nae nae’ing and just generally making a fool of myself. (I just pray my building doesn’t have cameras in the stairwell.) The workout isn’t long enough to get me too revved up before bed, nor too intense that I end up losing the dinner I just consumed. However, it’s enough to feel that sweat-soaked sense of accomplishment that keeps me on the bandwagon. If you’re really lucky, you might get your bf to join you. Challenge him to races, or make up some wild routines.

Stairs not your thing? Pick up some cheap boxing gloves and challenge your bf to a sparring match in the living room. You can work out any interpersonal tension and challenge your stamina by keeping the motion going – bobbing, weaving, dodging and throwing blows.

Bf not home (or nonexistent, as in my case)? Well, I’ll have you know, sometimes I chase my cat around the apartment. You’d be surprised how much of a workout you can get in trying to corner and catch a cat that thinks you’re trying to give it a bath.

I’ll also keep a set of weights under my couch to use when I’m watching TV. I can run through some reps of bicep and tricep curls, shoulder lifts and chest presses without even taking my eyes off of the screen. Sometimes I’ll balance the weight on my toes and do leg or knee lifts to target my quads. During commercials, if I’m feeling particularly motivated, I’ll haul myself off of the couch do some planks, pushups or squats. I know this hardly counts as a workout, but it does help to keep your mentality in training mode. Plus, science would tell you that getting more small bursts of activity throughout the day is healthier than one stressful burst of activity for an isolated interval.

I hope some of these ideas help you get the motivation back to get over your slump! Just remember, the hardest part of your workout is over once you actually set foot in the gym. If you can get that far, you’re unstoppable.

Yours Truly,

Laurie

Dear Laur: Help, I’m in a Workout Slump!

Dear Laur,

It’s that time of year, when the workout resolutions I set in January are starting to feel pretty unattainable. Work has been busier than ever and I’ve been travelling a lot. I barely have time to see my boyfriend, and we live together! How am I supposed to find time to squeeze in a workout?

And even if I do have the time, I’ve gotten into the habit of cancelling classes simply because I’m exhausted. The weather certainly doesn’t help. After a long day at work, who feels like heading out into the dark, cold night to workout?

And the worst part is, the more I don’t go, the less motivated I feel. I’m ashamed to show my face in some of my favorite classes for fear that the instructors will ask what good reason I had for falling off the face of the earth for the past two months. I’m worried that if I take a challenging class, I will embarrass myself. Even when I do manage to drag myself to a class, I station myself in the back corner and feel like I’m just going through the motions and watching the clock for the hour to end.

I know these are all just excuses, and I also know that everyone goes through these slumps at some point or another. But what can I do to get myself to feel motivated again and get my butt back to the gym? Help!

xx Meg

Hate Cardio? You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

I love feeling the burn as much as the next gal, but I just cannot stand cardio. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. All the fitness lore says – you have to mix it up. Challenge your body. Intervals. Cross training. Blah blah blah. Well, I’d just as soon travel back in time to be tortured on a medieval rack while undergoing primitive dental surgery. So, remind me again why I showed up at the gym today?

cardio

The Importance of Pacing

Hey, I’ll go run on a treadmill or ride a bike or swim some laps – no problem. That’s because in those situations, I set the pace.

I’m talking about love-hating (most mostly hating) group-led cardio, like HIIT at Barre Code (High Intensity Interval Training) which I force myself to attend once a week. This is where self-imposed peer pressure has me trying to keep pace with all the skinny girls, who actually seem to ENJOY this torture. Given the option to bounce, they jump. Meanwhile, I’m over there wondering how long I can just stand in place before someone notices.

Now, you’d think I’d just have to work at it more and build up a stamina. Except that’s not really 100% accurate. Stamina and endurance are something you mostly build from long sustained periods of continuous moderate activity. Cardio and interval training is more about how well your heart can get revved up to pump oxygenated blood to your super-active muscles, and how quickly it can chill out again between sets.

For a person who is overweight, this is already vastly more difficult. Your body is a lot larger inside than it may seem to you on the outside. Shocking Fact: For every 1 pound of weight you gain, your body produces 70 freaking miles of blood vessels. So jacks and burpees alone are not going to make your cardiovascular system stronger. Losing weight is an essential (if not THE MOST essential) part of that process.

Fortunately for people like me, strength and body resistance training is preferable for boosting metabolism and increasing fat burn throughout the day. When you finish a cardio session, that’s it. Your body shuts off. When you finish a strengthening session, your body is left with a debris field of muscle damage to rebuild – and THAT requires energy (coming in the form of the calories you continue to burn for HOURS afterward).

So what’s the real skinny on cardio? Is it beneficial, and if so, how much?

The Benefits

First off – a regular amount of aerobic exercise during your weekly workout routine is still a great thing. It’s good to get your blood moving. When your heart works harder, large doses of immune cells and oxygenated blood cells sweep throughout your body tissues – repairing damage and generally making you feel more active and alert.

Over time, doing regular cardio will also strengthen your heart muscle, making each pump more effective. Not only does this make you less fatigued during workouts, but also throughout the day. We all hear about how marathon runners have a resting heart rate of like 35 beats per minute. That’s because each one of those beats is worth two of ours.

Isn’t It Ironic?

On the flip side, as with any exercise, TOO MUCH IS NOT A GOOD THING.

1. Once your heart and lungs can’t keep up with the demand, your tissues may be deprived of fully oxygenated blood and can actually begin to break down and die.

2. Your body freaks the F out when you are doing high intensity cardio. It thinks you are being chased by a wild boar or something. Hence, you get a ton of the fight or flight hormones, including cortisol – which is notoriously a cause of weight gain.

3. Part of the stress response is inflammation, which can actually damage your heart vessels or tighten the tubes in your lungs. In marathon runners, long-term damage has been seen. One study pegged them at a 7 times higher risk for having heart problems than the average person. Cue Alanis Morissette.

Now that you’re terrified – let me assure you: If you’re just trying to lose weight and get in shape, chances are you’re not even doing the kind of cardio that can actually damage and kill you. So don’t use this as an excuse to never do another jumping jack again.

Find Your Zone

The point is, you may be doing the kind of cardio that no longer benefits you, and that’s where you have to listen to your body. If you need a visual, you can even track your heart rate. Your “max” is based on several factors like age and BMI. You may know from reading those charts they stick on the treadmills that there’s an ideal zone to be in. Once you get past the max, you’re doing more harm than good.

A quick way to calculate your max heart rate is 220 – your age. 

From there, you will calculate (or ask Siri) 90% of that value, 80%, 70%, etc. to determine the heart rate that puts you in each of Zones. (Example: If max = 190, then 90% of 190 is 171.)

Zone 1: 90% of Max – Danger Zone

  • Feels Like: Hard to breathe, muscles about to fail.
  • Recommended only for young, fit people.
  • Burns only carbs. 
  • Time: Five minutes max

Zone 2: 80% of Max – Pushing It Zone

  • Feels Like: Heavy breathing
  • Recommended only for generally fit people. 
  • Burns almost only carbs. 
  • Time: 2-10 minutes max

Zone 3: 70% of Max – Optimum Fat Burning Zone

  • Feels Like: Moderate to hard breathing
  • Recommended for intermediate to generally fit people.
  • Burns equal amount fat and carbs
  • Time: 10-40 minutes

Zone 4: 60% of Max – Warming Up

  • Feels Like: Light difficulty breathing
  • Recommended for beginners or for warm-ups
  • Burns mostly fat
  • Time: If this is your only exercise, 40-80 minutes for effect. Otherwise, just as a warmup and cool down period.

(Disclaimer: If you have any kind of cardiovascular or other health problems, you clearly should go see a doctor before doing any of this!)

So remember, don’t let peer pressure push your past your limit. The zone of benefit is going to be different for each person at the gym, so it’s totally fine if you have to drop out of that set of mountain climbers before the girl next to you.  You might have just worked harder than she has in less reps, simply because of your age and current BMI.

130 BPM? That’s It? Shoot, That’s like Four Pushups!

Remember, your age may give you a 70% Zone Heart Rate of 130, but that rate is going to be reached a lot differently depending on your body weight. If right now it takes only ten jumping jacks for you to reach Zone 3, don’t worry. Once you lose weight, you’ll be like all the skinny chicks next to you – who are leaping and grinning through A-Jacks and probably only in Zone 4. With weight loss and increased stamina, you’ll be able to do more work per pump.

Willpower isn’t what keeps you going after you want to stop. It’s what keeps you going until you absolutely need to.

High-Intensity Interval Training

As with most things in the fitness world, try to ask yourself: “What Would Caveman Me Do?” Our primitive ancestors were hunter-gatherers, which meant short bursts of high intensity activity followed by lots of rest. Just like a car, most of the power is used in accelerating and braking. Once you’re in cruise control, all you’re doing is wearing out the struts and putting on miles.

Also keep in mind that your active sets need not be the same duration as the people around you. For instance, if a class instructor is leading 2 minutes seconds of jacks and you feel ready to keel over after a minute, take that short break you need to catch your breath and then get back in it. You’ve just divided one burst into two bursts – each peaking at your maximum effort. That’s two for the price of one!

Knowing that your best effort is truly the best thing for you, cardio moves into a much more psychologically friendly realm. Just like with diet – the goal is not to torture yourself, but to understand yourself and what truly works best for you.

 

Get Sweaty with Your Valentine

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Image courtesy of Nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No, it’s not what you’re thinking… Though I won’t discount the health benefits of getting frisky, I’m talking about taking your sweat session out of the bedroom and into the gym!

Working out as a couple is a great alternative to the traditional dinner and a movie date night. Exercise releases feel good endorphins and can inspire healthy competition or team building in a relationship. Plus who doesn’t want to see their partner flexing strong muscles?

My boyfriend will never understand my love of barre class – he’s more the pumping iron at the gym kind of guy. But the following classes are sure to please both parties – and make both your bodies and your relationship stronger for it!

Cycling 

Stop fighting over what to watch on TV and instead spar it out over spin class. Friendly competition can be good for a relationship, especially when you are pushing each other to crank up the calorie burn. Studios like Flywheel Sports have technology that measures your performance and shows how you compare to others in the class, so that you can literally race against each other. Or cycle for the same team at Swerve Fitness, which divides the class into 2 or 3 teams and broadcasts your collective performance on a scoreboard.

Ballroom Dancing

I have yet to get my boyfriend to trade in his sneakers for samba shoes, but I am dying for him to step up and be my Patrick Swayze. Ballroom dance is extremely romantic and sexy. You’ll walk away feeling confident and connected with your partner, having fostered a bond that is completely reliant on open communication and trust. And even if you or your man has two left feet, you’ll still have a blast trying something new.

Looking to play out your Dirty Dancing fantasies in NYC? Tear up the dance floor at Arthur Murray Ballroom Dance Center or Dancesport.

Parkour 

Now this is something that neither of you has likely tried before – so you can work through a new challenge and learn a lot about your partner in the process. Let loose your inner daredevil as you vault, run, climb and swing to pass over, under and through an extreme obstacle course. Overcoming these physical and mental barriers as a team will strengthen your bond and move your relationship forward. Plus, you’ll feel like a bad ass ninja, and there’s nothing sexier!

Ready to brave the ultimate urban jungle? Try Brooklyn Zoo.

Ice Skating 

The ideal winter date setting, grab a cup of cocoa and hold tight to your lover’s mittened hand. And while it may seem like you’re just gliding along, you’re actually burning a lot of calories – approximately 400 in an hour! Check out the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers or hit up one of the outdoor rinks at Bryant Park or Central Park.

Rock Climbing 

Not only is it a great full body burn, working the arms, legs, back and shoulders, but it also is a great bonding experience. For an added challenge, try scaling the wall together without letting go of your partner’s hand. It’s the ultimate test of teamwork and trust! Climb to new heights together at Brooklyn Boulders.

So what are you waiting for, grab your guy and get fit! Because the couple who sweats together stays together.

And be sure to tell me in the comments, what are some of your favorite ways to work out with your lover?

xoxo

Meg

Our Relationship With Food: It’s Complicated

Food is a ridiculous sounding word if you say it enough times in a row. Try it. Food. Food. Fooooood. (Note the close resemblance to Moooo … but I’m not gonna go there).

Let me tell you about my relationship with Food.

Not to pin the blame on my parents, but as a family, we enjoyed eating out a lot. I grew to love Food as a sensation. Taste, smell, visual presentation. It also became an Event. Imagine all the fuss that goes into dining out. You dress up, you drive, you wait to be seated, you wait to be waited on, you wait to be served one course – and then the next. It’s quite a process, but it’s a welcome break from the stresses of the day that happens to include a delightful mouth orgy.

As I got older, I started to lean very heavily on Food as Therapy. In fact, after a particularly emotional transition in my life, I literally gained 40 pounds in one year. Mealtime was a light at the end of a tunnel – a Jimmy Johns sub on a stick dangling before me as I toiled away – or, often the easiest answer I could find to those depressing “What am I doing with my life??” questions. Answer: Ordering Pizza?

With this came a plethora of problems. Dieting was excessively punishing. The hole left in my soul by French Fries and Chicken Tenders was filled with self-loathing and frustration. What’s worse, most of the time – scaling back on what I ate didn’t really seem to impact my weight. How could I convince myself to forgo the simple and immediate pleasures in life for the highly uncertain promise of results somewhere long down the road?

The Turning Point

One evening, I chowed down on some Jimmy Johns prior to Choir Rehearsal. As was typical, I was immediately hit with what my family calls ‘The Jimmy Shits’. For months, I’d been dealing with increasingly more abrupt stomach issues after eating, so this was nothing new. Unfortunately, in this moment, I had 90 minutes of a rehearsal to sit through before I could make a break for the toilet. As the burn and ache built in my gut, I began to put pieces together for the first time in my life.

First off, as a kid, I’d been through the wringer of GI issues. I’d gone through every medical test in the book – living with a ph probe down my nose, eating radioactive Dinty Moore chili prior to X-Rays, and trying a long series of ineffective medications. In fact, my toddler sister once got into my chocolate-flavored laxatives and produced more feces within her footy pajamas than could have come from a grown man ten times her size.

They diagnosed me with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome and prescribed a pill that controlled the monthly cycles of horrible pain and vomiting. Still, I had a very sensitive stomach and despite the fact that I felt sick after every meal, I kept eating the same way. After all, what’s the notion of horrible stomach cramps when you’re looking at a cheese pizza or a dish of ice cream? Maybe that’s a price I was willing to pay.

On that night, as I bore the brunt of my price, my bowel finally shouted ENOUGH – loud enough for me to hear. It seemed pretty obvious that as much as I loved my various glutens, milks, cheese and fats, my particular bowel was probably unable to process them. I’d never thought of myself as an allergic person, but it kind of made sense given my history. Not to mention, two years ago I’d developed a mild form of asthma that came and went, hooting like an itinerant bassoon player in lungs. Didn’t that kind of fit into the same category of oversensitivity to the things I love? (i.e. Potatoes, Cheese, Air).

I also did some research and found out that all the dieting attempts I made in the past would have been useless if I was still consuming the food my body reacted badly too. So, finally – something new to try!

Transformation

Suddenly, this was no longer a mission of “dieting” but “healing.” Now, it wasn’t about finding a meal that I could tolerate mentally, but one that my body could tolerate physically. Game on!

Since the moment I made that decision (exactly 16 days ago), my body has let go of 9 pounds of fat and water bloat. I’ve stopped falling victim to that 2pm stupor that had me falling asleep at my desk. Better yet, I haven’t had a single stomach ache.

I’ve begun to see each meal as a Science. Now, instead of looking forward to a meal as an opportunity to self-medicate my psyche, I’m solely looking at the nutrients. There are days when I’ll stand in my kitchen just grabbing things out of the fridge and eating them like a scientist mixing chemicals in a reaction. Add a big hunk of deli roasted chicken breast. Some red bell peppers. A handful of kale. What am I missing? Fruit carbs? Grab an apple. Done.

I eat more often and only when I’m hungry. I only drink water and I’m sure to always have a glass on hand throughout the day.  When I have more time to cook, I’ll try to prepare something more interesting, but for the most part, I can be satiated simply by balancing the books when it comes to vitamins, nutrients, fats, carbs and proteins.

No more wondering “What do I feel like tonight? Italian? Mexican? Burgers?” I don’t “feel” food that way anymore. The spell has been broken, and it doesn’t even cross my mind. Now I have other things to look forward to in the day. Like working out at Barre Code, going to my dance rehearsals twice a week, or kicking back and enjoying a well-earned Netflix binge while munching down on My New Crack – frozen bananas.

Restore to Factory Default

Bottom line – my body was not meant to be bloated and fat. Yours wasn’t either. So what do you do when something isn’t working the way it’s supposed to? Well, if it’s anything like your Internet router, you hit reset. Once it boots up again, the problem is usually solved. Whatever it ‘thought’ it was supposed to be doing has now been overridden by the original rules and settings.

Now your story may be different than mine, which is why I encourage everyone to try a variety of nutrient balances until they find what works. When your body starts to behave the way it was designed, you’ll know you’re onto something. You’ll drop excess weight, gain energy, and flip the internal switch that puts you into ‘hunt and fight’ mode (vs. ‘rest and digest mode’). Moreover, your brain will reward this satisfactory behavior by flooding your psyche with the chemicals related to pleasure and fulfillment.

Hey Jimmy, can your sandwich do that?

 

 

 

Superbowl Sunday: Learn to Dance like Beyoncé

Superbowl 50 has officially kicked off! And though the Packers aren’t in it, this year’s event still promises brings together some of my favorite things: football, adorable pre-show kittens, yelling at the TV, and most importantly, Beyoncé!

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Sasha Fierce is hotter than ever right now, having just dropped a new single yesterday and slated to spice up tonight’s half time show. Finding yourself mesmerized by Queen Bey’s killer bod and wondering how she does it? By literally dancing her a$$ off!

Dancing is a fun way to get fit and fierce, the perfect formula that promises to improve flexibility, build muscle and strengthen cardiovascular health. It’s serious cardio that torches calories but is such a good time that you don’t realize how hard your body is actually working. And if you’re enjoying your exercise routine, you’re more likely to stick to it and see more results. Concentrating on choreography allows little room for your mind to wander during your workout, allowing you to let go of outside stresses from the day. Having to remember the steps to a routine also boosts brainpower, much more than mindless reps at the gym.

You don’t need a background in dance to learn how to shake it like Bey! Studios all over are picking up on the dance cardio trend, and some even offer classes that are all Beyoncé all the time. Here are some of my favorite classes where you can unleash your inner Bey:

Banana Skirt Productions

Remember back when the most fun you had on a Saturday night was getting your girlfriends together for a sleepover and staying up all night to learn the latest MTV music video moves? Well Banana Skirt promises to be all that and more. It’s a super fun and social dance class where instructors with professional dance backgrounds teach you the choreography to the music video of the moment. The instructors are upbeat and encourage you to move around the class so everyone has their chance to shine front and center. The choreography can be challenging, but is good for all levels. At the end of the class you break up into smaller groups so that you can really perform your heart out and show off your new moves. Added bonus – they provide free bottled water printed with their own cute labels!

Broadway Bodies

Broadway Bodies is known for their Beyoncé class, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself on a waitlist to get in. They are seriously fierce – I even received an email alert yesterday that they were adding an “emergency” class in honor of Bey’s new single dropping. They are all about unleashing your inner superstar as you learn custom choreography to toe-tapping tunes – everything from Broadway to Beyoncé. Though I have yet to get into theBeyoncé class (it’s definitely on my bucket list), the other classes I’ve taken here have broken down the choreography at a fairly slow pace – so great for those who are just starting out.

Vixen Workout

Vixen Workout originated in Miami, so it’s all about creating a club atmosphere with a nightlife vibe, high energy moves and loud, fist-pumping music. They sneak muscle toning movements into easy to learn combinations that are right on the beat. It’s a women’s only workout – the perfect way for non dancers and dancers alike to let loose, forget about daily stresses and channel their pop star alter-ego!

So let’s get up off the couch and dance our way fit! Be sure to tell me about your favorite dance-inspired workouts – I’m always looking for new ones to try!

 

 

Weeknight Kitchen Hack: Super Moist Chicken Breast

We all have those weeknights where we get home super late and still have to scramble to get dinner together. Luckily, as a Newbie Chef, I’m pretty familiar with how to throw together the most basic of meals with the least amount of effort.

On nights when I’ve come home from a long workout and need a hearty, nutrient-packed meal, I go for baked chicken breast. Now, I basically used to be President of the Chicken Fingers Fan Club. I thought chicken that wasn’t breaded and deep fried was just for Grandma!

Suffice it to say, I’ve discovered that oven chicken is not only ridiculously easy to make, but actually tastes amazing. You can pair it with a veggie side dish that slow-simmers or steams while the chicken bakes and you catch u on other things – laundry, dishes, shower, whatever!

Kitchen Hack: Perfect Juicy Oven Poached Chicken with Parchment Paper

Gone are the days of dry, chewy chicken. This chicken is so tender and moist, you won’t even need a knife to cut it.

First tip – Buy organic, cage-free chicken if available. I’ve seen one too many documentaries about Chicken Jail. Picture windowless rooms packed wall-to-wall with obese corn-fed chickens that have lost their ability to even walk. NOT COOL. Chickens that roam free and eat grass and bugs are happy, healthy chickens – which makes a happy, healthy you. Also – it tastes SO MUCH BETTER.

Second tip – Chicken breast doesn’t have a lot of natural fat in it, so it tends to dry out when baking. The solution is to create a sort of ‘false skin’ for the chicken, which helps to keep all the juices inside rather than spilling out and evaporating in your oven. This is called dry poaching, and can be done with Parchment Paper.

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Here’s how to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  2. Pour about 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil into a baking or casserole dish
  3. Wash your boneless skinless chicken breast in room temp water. Pat with paper towel to dry.
  4. Place chicken in dish and rub it around in the oil to spread the oil evenly. Flip it once to coat both sides of the chicken.
  5. Add your seasonings to the chicken. You can pretty much go any direction here. I usually add a hearty squirt of lemon juice. For a kick, try cayenne pepper, seasoning salt, curry or chili powder. Or, go the herbal route with basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
  6. You can also add veggies, onions, apricots, peaches and just about anything to the dish itself.
  7. Once the chicken is seasoned, take a square of parchment paper that’s small enough to fit within the dish. Press the parchment paper into the oily residue at the bottom of the dish to soak it up and coat the paper.
  8. Lay the paper atop the chicken and tuck the edges into the dish.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes and then test with a meat thermometer. Perfect temp is around 170 – 175.
  10. If it needs additional cook, return to the oven without the parchment paper.

In the picture below, I’ve paired my chicken with some super simple steamed brussels sprouts steamed in a microwavable bag. (Added bonus: I was able to use the leftover sprouts as a salad base the next day).

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