Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?

It’s good to have goals. I, for example, don’t want to be ordinary. You may want to lose that last five pounds, achieve a PR in your next 5k, or keep high blood pressure and diabetes at bay.

It’s good to have a plan for achieving your goals, too. Part of my plan is this blog. If I write about health and fitness, then I have to practice what I preach, right?

So what gets in the way of successful achievement of our goals? What trips us up from being the extraordinary people we were born to be?

10 Saboteurs

According to Positive Intelligence author Shirzad Chamine, there are saboteurs lurking inside us. In his blog he explains:self

Saboteurs are the internal enemies. They are a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns, each with its own voice, beliefs, and assumptions that work against our best interest. To illustrate, when our mind tells us that we should prepare for tomorrow’s important meeting, it is acting as our friend, causing positive action. When it wakes us up at 3:00 a.m. anxious about the meeting and warning us for the hundredth time about the many consequences of failing, it is acting as our enemy; it is simply exhausting our mental and physical resources without any redeeming value. No friend would do that.

So who’s living in you? The Judge, most likely — and which of his or her accomplices? Controller, Stickler, Avoider, Restless, Pleaser, Victim, Hyper-Rational, Hyper-Vigilant, or Hyper-Achiever? You can take a self-assessment on Chamine’s site to find out. He also talks about these saboteurs (and especially his experience with the Judge) in his TED talk below.

Exercise Your PQ Brain

Want to keep those saboteurs in check? I just downloaded a copy of the book to my Kindle to find out more about Chamine’s three strategies. The short answer for this short blog: Exercise. Not the kind of workout that I’ve been writing about, though. From what I can tell from Chamine’s site (and his PQ Gym), we’re talking mental reps, not push-ups. It involves stopping your “busy mind chatter” and redirecting attention to your physical sensations. Sounds a lot like meditation and prayer.

I think it’s a great reminder that we need to take control of what we eat, what we do, and how we think.

“Ring, Ring, It’s Your Brain Calling: Get Up!”

Next time you consider hitting the snooze button or flipping off your calendar prompt when it’s time to workout… Don’t. Resist the urge to sit tight. Get up and move. Don’t do it to squeeze into that size 8 dress in the back of the closet or look good at your upcoming reunion. Don’t do it for a healthy heart. Do it for your brain.

Exercise Boosts Brain Power

Brain Rules by John Medina is one of my very favorite books. There are 12 rules, but the first is “exercise boosts brain power.” I could summarize the main points of his chapter here, but I encourage you to check out Professor Medina’s interactive explanations on the Brain Rules site and the YouTube video below.

Don’t Stop with Exercise

Medina advises weaving activity into other tasks, and this idea may be taking off in the workplace. A client from my day job recently reported that her employer put a treadmill with a laptop desk, power cord, and Internet connection in the middle of the new open space office so employees can walk and work (maximum speed 2 miles/hour).

Playground Power

Earlier this month, I heard a PRI radio report about the impact of longer recess on student achievement in Finland. It appears that the secret to smarts isn’t more time in class but out. That prompted me to send an email to the Fairfield school board to understand why high school students are not required to take gym every semester.

I won’t bore with you the long reply, which noted that there was increasing pressure for standardized testing and that Fairfield actually requires more physical education than the state’s standard for graduation. Instead I’ll share the good news about recent legislation: Apparently teachers cannot require participation in gym as a form of punishment. Whoopie.

Danielle Henderson: Kickass Woman #3

Dani Get Your Guns in action. In red.
(c) 2013 Donalee Eiri, Photography by D.E.Sign Dani Get Your Guns in action. In red.

Today is my friend Danielle’s birthday. She’s a wife, a mom, a business professional with a full-time job, and a roller derby skater. Yup.  Roller derby. I am in awe. I don’t know how she does it all.

Danielle is one of two friends who inspired me as I was approaching 50 to return to a healthier, fitter lifestyle. (My other pal, Darlene, will no doubt get her post one day, too!)

Danielle, who skates as Dani Get Your Guns for the Windy City Rollers, was my colleague at the time. One Friday night I was in the Princeton office; she was in her home office in Chicago. Our Skype chat had moved from business to personal. She recommended I try the 10-Minute Trainer DVDs to work up to the type of fitness regimen she had. I shut down Skype, ordered it for Saturday delivery, and drove home to CT. I pushed play that weekend. A month later, we were both in NJ for work. I joined her at 5 a.m. for a 2-hour combo of p90x, Insanity, and Brazil Butt Lift. (That night when I drove into my driveway I could barely get out of the car!) Since then I’ve been pushing play for one program or another. I’m even an Independent Team Beachbody coach

What’s my point? Kickass women inspire others.  They take the time to help people accomplish things that they may not have considered possible. Thank you, Danielle! Maybe some day I’ll even have biceps like those you sport in your team pic!

Time to Soup Up Your Diet

Gotta love Monday mornings. I just had chicken-barley soup for breakfast.

Here’s why you should make — and eat — more soup.

Soup Is Nutrient Dense

Chicken-barley soup
Chicken-barley soup

When I was a kid, my Nana came over every Sunday for a mid-day dinner that my mom would make (roast beef, ham, roast chicken, pot roast, etc.). Supper was my dad’s job, and he often made soup by emptying all the week’s leftovers from the refrigerator into a pot and “doctoring” it up with fresh ingredients. His results were so tasty that my Nana once declared, “I like the suppers better than the dinners.” (Not a wise move in terms of mother-daughter relations.)

What my father knew is that you can pack a lot (and hide a lot) of healthy ingredients into soup, and it can still taste good. Scientists even study the chicken-soup-for-a-cold connection. Who am I to argue?

Soup Is Convenient

I telecommute for my day job. That means no corporate cafeteria. So when it’s lunch time, I walk down from my attic office (aka “the tower”), take the dog for a walk, and start scrounging around for something to eat. Since my husband works from home as well, I usually have two mouths to feed. Oh, and sometimes three, since our youngest daughter arrives home from her packed lunch-less high school schedule around 2:30 famished.

Heating up soup is super quick. Follow it up with an apple and peanut butter and we’ll all make it to dinner without becoming homicidal. (Okay, I am actually the only one who gets homicidal with hunger.)  I sometimes take a container of healthy soup with me to NJ on business, and heat it up for lunch or dinner.

The Days (in the Northeast US anyway) Are Getting Chilly

Soup and autumn are a great combo, especially with the wonderful squashes that will soon hit the local farmer’s markets: Delicata, butternut, and buttercup are my faves. What’s better than a brisk breeze coming through the still-open windows while a simmering soup on the stove fills the house with warm smells of yumminess? Perhaps only a cinnamon-y apple crisp in the oven.

Try These Soups

Here are a few suggestions to inspire you. No, they’re not exactly recipes. Who needs exact directions for soup? Go for it. Be creative! That’s another reason to love soup.

Chicken-Barley: I never let a chicken carcass go to waste. I turn it into soup. (Tip: I once heard Gourmet editor Ruth Reichel say you should never boil ingredients when making stock. Simmer!)  Take meat off the bones, then throw in lots of peppercorns, a bay leaf, celery, onions, garlic, and carrots and simmer. After a while, strain the bones and vegetables out of the broth. Toss the bay leaf, put the veggies back in, and zap it all with an immersion blender. (This last step isn’t required. I do it because someone in the family used to object to carrots. Another avoided celery.) Throw in barley, cook for 30 minutes or so. Then add back in the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and yum.

Lima Bean Soup
Lima Bean Soup

Lima Bean: Our local vegetarian restaurant Bloodroot serves a number of lima bean soups, depending on the season. This weekend I was too lazy to go upstairs to find their cookbook, so I tried to approximate my favorite version from memory. I sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil (until almost caramelized), added a bag of frozen baby lima beans, salt, pepper, sage, and about a quart of vegetable broth. Brought it to a boil, then simmered for 30 minutes or so. Added Bragg’s Amino (you could use regular soy sauce), a tablespoon of tomato paste, juice of a lemon, and basil.

Ginger Squash: Roast a variety of squashes in the oven. When cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh into a pot with vegetable (or chicken) broth (not too much — you can always add more). Add fresh ginger (at least an inch or two, peeled). And a peeled apple or banana, too. Ground cumin and ground chipotle are good additions, too. Simmer. Then blend. Season with salt and pepper, and some lime or orange juice. Serve with cilantro on top. If you want a more dramatic presentation and dose of dairy, add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

What are your go-to soups?

Diana Nyad: Kickass Woman #2

Within seconds of publishing this week’s blog (“In Defense of Walking“), a CNN alert popped up in my email announcing that Diana Nyad had just completed her 100+ mile swim from Cuba in about 53 hours. At 64 years old. No shark cage. Fifth attempt. I don’t think there is any commentary I can add but Wow. Woo-hoo. Way to go. Congratulations Diana Nyad.

Let’s all get out of our metaphorical shark cages and do something great.

Here is Diana’s inspiring 2012 TED talk about why she was compelled to try this swim.

In Defense of Walking

Bluff Point State Park
Bluff Point State Park

Jim and I were walking along the trails at Bluff Point State Park in Groton, CT when I mentioned my idea for this post. He replied, “I didn’t know that walking needed defending.”

A lot of my friends walk as their primary exercise. This post isn’t for them. It’s for those of you who are exercise snobs or, like me, fall in and out of love with walking. As anyone who gives me 5 secs will learn, I’m proud of working out with Insanity (billed as the “hardest workout ever put on DVD”) and p90x, among other programs. I’ve occasionally been known to challenge teenage boys to push-up contests. I used to be a runner, not a jogger.

However, I think walking was my secret weapon in the battle of the bulge (aka my muffin top) last year. I lost about 20 pounds when I watched what I ate, completed DVD workouts six days a week, AND walked for about an hour 3 to 4 times a week.

low section view of three people walking

Why Add Walking to Your Routine?

According to an MNN story (“5 Ways Walking Is Better than Running“), walking may be just as effective as running in relieving stress, high cholesterol, and diabetes.  You can also do it practically anywhere without much equipment. A decent pair of shoes and you’re ready to go.

It’s low impact. That was really important for me. I wanted to burn extra calories, but knew my body could not withstand much more pounding than I was already giving it. If you want to create a fitness regiment with walking at the core, check out this workout plan in Fitness magazine.

Rest stop in the Texas wilderness.
Rest stop in the Texas wilderness.

It’s social… or not. I really like walking with friends and family (two- and four-legged). I like the companionship and talking about things we never seem to have time to discuss. At the same time, I love the “inside-my-head” time that solo walking provides. I write leads to articles, craft grocery lists, muse about things at work or home, or just enjoy being outside.

You can see things. I love early morning walks because I notice things that I don’t see during the hustle and bustle of the day. In our neighborhood the turkeys sometimes gather in the park or walk down the sidewalk in more-or-less single file.

You can go places. Let’s not forget that walking is how humans got around for centuries. You may choose to walk with a sense of purpose to the store. You can opt for a hiking excursion. (, for example, lists trails by difficulty, policies, and amenities.)

Don’t Just Walk

While walking might help you de-stress, keep your weight in check, get you outside, and take you places, you’ll need to add a few things to your routine to support your overall health. Strength training and core conditioning are important. So is exerting yourself enough for your heart to reap the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. And of course, watching what you eat. Food is your body’s fuel. But that’s another blog topic.