30 Days to a Healthier You!

It’s July 1st, and there’s no better time than now to take charge of your health. Lord knows you try—a fridge full of lean meats and Greek yogurt, and those regular walks count toward something. But sometimes achieving and maintaining good health can just feel so overwhelming.

It’s worth the effort, though. Not only are we called to glorify God with our bodies (see 1 Corinthians 6:20), health is one of those things we take for granted until one day we wake up and find it’s floundering.

The good news is that you don’t have to start exercising like an Olympic athlete or stick to a diet of salmon, nuts, and kale. When it comes to health, it’s important to take baby steps. Small daily changes can make a big difference in the long run.

For the next 30 days, commit to making little tweaks to your lifestyle. I’ll make it easy by giving you 30 simple ways to give your health a boost. Check them out here.  (Good news: A few of the tips involve wine and chocolate.)

While you’re at it, please share your own healthy tips in the combox!

Quick, effective workouts for time-crunched moms

I’m happy to report that I’ve found an amazing physical therapist who understands runners and running and is helping me to correct some imbalances and joint dysfunction that have likely been leading to recurring running injuries all of these years. My hamstring is doing well and wasn’t sore even after a tough interval workout on the track yesterday (yay!). I’ve been much better about properly stretching and cross training as well.

To supplement my running, I’ve been strength training, completing core exercises, and regularly stretching. How do I have time for this all? I still have all those kiddos after all, and my sweet, once extremely laid-back baby boy has morphed into Todzilla. We affectionately refer to him as Thomas the Terror. The boy hits everything within arm’s reach and turns random objects (plates, plastic animal figures, diapers, sippy cups) into balls. “Ball!” he shouts just before he freely hurls the non-ball object at people, breakable objects, and onto plates filled with food on the dinner table. I’ve always been wary of stereotyping boys and girls or squeezing children into stringent gender definitions. My oldest always seemed to fit more into the boy parameters, for example. She was really active, has broken several bones, and preferred pirate parties to princess ones. But she didn’t throw things like our little Nolan Ryan or just plow into others (or walls) for the fun of it, so I would say that in my experience with three girls and one boy, this XY chromosome carrier is far more physical.

Part of my regular workout obviously consists of keeping Thomas from killing himself or one of his sisters. This requires plyometrics and endurance and strength. Aside from this regular fitness, I get up early – 5:15ish usually – to run several days a week. I usually run at least four days a week, and I frequently run five or six days. However, I always try to take at least one complete rest day and when my hamstring was bothering me, I rowed on a rowing machine to cross train rather than running so much. Since I homeschool and can avoid the early, mad-morning rush, some of my kids (two out of four) sleep in closer to 8 a.m. The early birds fend for themselves until I’m finished with my run and have showered (i.e., the 5-year-old reads quietly while the 4-year-old cuddles with Daddy before he gets ready for work). On busy days, I skip the shower. One day recently Thomas wanted to nurse but when I lifted my shirt and he caught a whiff of my sweaty musk, he said, “Ewwww,” and climbed off my lap. There’s a weaning tip for you if you’re ready to wean and your toddler isn’t. Get all stinky and don’t shower before offering them the breast.

After my runs, I’ve been doing an excellent DVD I read about called Exhale: Core Fusion – Body Sculpt. I’d heard the video was great for people wanting to supplement a regular exercise program (like running or biking) and also for people who crave variety. I like to mix things up, and this has been perfect. The program consists of five weeks of different 20-minute workouts – six workouts for each day with one rest day incorporated into the routine. It’s challenging for someone who has taken barre classes. There was one move I physically could not do, and I’m not sure it’s because I am a complete weakling or just terribly inflexible (flexibility has never been my strong suit). The workouts also keep me from growing bored since each day includes new moves. The workouts combine yoga, pilates, and strength moves. I highly recommend it and no, I was not asked to review this DVD. I purchased it with my own moula off Amazon.

My husband and I also enjoy working out together at night when the kids are asleep. We have a mini gym set up in our basement/classroom/television room. This is when I stretch and strength train.

I’ve also discovered 8 Minute Abs and 8 Minute Arms, thanks to Hungry Runner Girl. I’ve been doing the 8 Minute Abs almost every day. We all have eight minutes to spare, right? The cheesy music and super-cool leotards keep me entertained as my abs begin to burn. I’ve only completed the 8 Minute Arms once. It’s a good arm workout that covers all the muscles, but make sure you’re using heavy enough weights to make it effective. A zebra-striped leotard may help you feel the burn more, too.

Here’s my challenge for you this week: Carve out just 8 minutes to devote to fitness every day or at least six out of the seven days this week. You can do it!

If you have a favorite, quick but effective workout, share it below, please!

Multitasking, Mindfulness, and Eating

1-59471-305-7{This post is a part of the Cravings blog tour.}

A few nights ago my generous husband, who also happens to be quite the gastronomer, made us a delicious artichoke and mushroom lasagna swimming in a creamy white sauce. The cheese on top was slightly browned and as soon as my husband put my serving in front of me, I dug in. The lasagna was delicious and such a gift since I wasn’t the one who cooked it; yet, eating it, like eating most things in my life lately, was a blur.

I used to be a slow eater. Some of it had to do with less than healthy reasons. I had some strange food rituals in my eating disordered days. I’d break off pieces of bread, for instance, and roll them into tiny balls between my fingers before tentatively slipping the food into my mouth, which prolonged the meal.

I don’t want to return to those strange eating habits where an inner monologue was raving inside of me about how I shouldn’t be eating anything. But I also hate how eating nowadays has become just another “to-do” in my life that I rush through.

Many mothers struggle with eating mindfully – which basically means being aware of what you’re eating, stopping before you’re full, and enjoying your meal as well – because we’re always on the go and we’ve mastered the art of multitasking. We’re squeezing meals in between all the schlepping, the homework, the soccer practices, ballet recitals, playdates, housework, and maybe homeschooling. Or we’re trying to stuff our faces before the baby wants to nurse again or before the 3-year-old spills her milk or the teenager skulks away from the dinner table. I often find myself quickly shoveling in food so that I can make sure I can get adequately fed before someone needs something from me. It’s become a habit, a matter of survival for the hurried mom. Eat as quickly as possible to ensure I’m fed.

Even on the rare occasion when I can eat alone or just with my husband, though, I still frequently find myself eating too quickly. Perhaps this way of speed eating is a relic from my eating disorder past. When I was recovering, it was tough to eat slowly, mindfully because my body was physically afraid that this indulgence of simply meeting a basic need was the feast before the famine. Eat all you can now because tomorrow you’ll be starving again. Then, there were times when eating became therapy, a way to soothe my frayed edges. Stuff the dark chocolate into your mouth – lots of it – and you’ll feel better. And I would feel slightly better for about one minute until I realized I’d eaten an entire chocolate bar and hadn’t even really enjoyed it or tasted it. By all means, satisfy that space in your soul that craves wine, manchego, butter, or gelato – but do it in moderation and please slow down enough to actually savor the indulgence.

But my speedy, mindless munching cannot only be blamed on my distorted eating history or my maternity. There’s something else going on, too. Dinner at our house is a sit-down affair where we do try to talk, and no books, television, etc. are allowed. However, I typically feed my kids their other meals at our breakfast bar since we don’t have an informal dining area off our kitchen. This means I’m standing up when I eat breakfast and lunch. So I frequently find myself nibbling on food while doing something else or several things besides just eating. Maybe I’m checking emails on my iPhone while inhaling a spinach salad at lunch.  I might be reading the kids a story while they sit down and eat and I graze off their plates. Maybe I’m pouring a refill for one of my little ones with one hand while my other hand brings a sandwich to my mouth. Sometimes I read while I eat. Or I’m driving somewhere and eating at the same time.

But if I’m not just eating or maybe just eating and talking and enjoying the company of those I love, then I’m not being mindful about what I’m putting into my mouth. It’s mechanical. There’s nothing satisfying about it except maybe the calories and the energy they give my body. When I’m not focused on the act of eating, it’s also easy to consume beyond the point of physical satiety or to eat for the wrong reasons – because I’m bored, because I’m stressed because my toddler is screeching more loudly than a pack of howler monkeys, because I’m reading email and completely unaware of what’s passing through my lips.

Multitasking doesn’t only rob us of the joy of being fully present and aware of our blessings, including the food before us, but it could be making us fat. I’m not listening to the cues of my body if I’m not even thinking about chewing and swallowing my food. It’s easy to eat more when I’m not even really aware that I’m eating.

A growing body of research is pointing out the ill effects of multitasking – how it leaves us feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and unfulfilled. The technology that allows us to download a song while saying “hi” to a friend on Facebook as the television flickers in the distance and a new text on our Smartphone chirps at us is shaping our minds to process information rather than to interpret it, understand it, or even remember it. The same is true with our eating and our food. If we don’t sit down and slow down our eating so that we can fully taste the the food and enjoy the experience, then we’re just digesting it. Even if there are good nutrients in what we’re eating, even if we don’t polish off the entire sleeve of cookies, it’s still as if we’re still consuming empty calories. Eating should not be joyless, guilt-inducing, robotic, or just another thing we do while driving or texting.

I had the honor of reading an advanced copy of Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God by Mary De Turris Poust, which I highly recommend. It’s an uplifting read for anyone who has struggled with their weight or food and longs for freedom from obsessing over every inch of flesh. In her meaty (lots of food for thought here!) and excellent book, Poust devotes an entire chapter to the dangers of multitask eating and why it’s important to develop a more mindful approach to meals.

She writes,

“For most of us, even the best-case meal scenario is not an exercise in mindfulness. We tend to take a big bite of food and scoop the next bite onto our fork or spoon before we’ve finished chewing the first. All of [this] leads to less-than-mindful eating, allowing us to consume large amounts of food without even realizing it, sometimes without even tasting it.

When we begin to pay attention to our food, really pay attention, we are forced to confront some ugly realities, like how quickly we typically eat, how often we eat while talking or arguing, how little we really enjoy what we’re eating because we’re multitasking. So we come back around to the cold, hard truth: If we want to enjoy our food and feel good about our bodies and our weight at the same time, we have to find a way to go against the cultural grain and slow things down to a crawl.

She goes on to share a ten-step plan on how to eat more mindfully and slowly such as simply looking at your food. That’s right. Check out what’s been presented before you. Pause before digging in. Poust mentions how saying a blessing before eating can also help since it helps put her in touch with God. Shouldn’t every meal, not just Communion, – be eucharistic – an opportunity to give thanks to open ourselves to grace?

My youngest child had his first cookie over Christmas. We hosted a cookie swap at our house, and we were all enjoying a sampling of the treats. He didn’t want to be left out, so we gave him a ginger snap.  (Funny, how my fourth child starts noshing on sugary treats far before my first ever did!) He was so delighted with the gift. He didn’t just eat it. He worshiped it. Watching him savor that cookie was a lesson in mindful eating. First, he licked it. Then he laughed at it. He sucked on it. He put a soggy crumb or two in his hair. He delighted in its taste, its texture, the weight of it in his pudgy hands. Eating that cookie was an experience and a joyful one at that.

Here’s my goal. I’m following my little boy’s lead and am going to really pay attention to my food the next time I eat. I’m going to slow down and experience it. I’m going to focus on its taste and texture as well as enjoy the company of my husband and children without worrying about if I’m going to have to get up to get anyone more milk. I eat healthy. I slurp up green smoothies and serve quinoa, but that doesn’t mean I’m eating the right way or even a healthy way. As someone who has had to work at making peace with her body and food, I’m learning that a healthful diet isn’t so much about what you eat but how you eat it.

Please do check out Cravings. It’s a wonderful, helpful book that will leave you satisfied. I have one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below to be entered to win. You may leave separate comments if you share this post/giveaway on Twitter and Facebook. The contest ends at 8 pm EST on January 25, 2013. Good luck, and happy, mindful eating!!!

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