Get On Your Feet (aka: Training Your Tootsies)

Take a deep sniff. Smell that? No, it’s not a bag of stale Cheetos™.  It’s the oh-too familiar whiff of a very hard-working, under-rated part of our bodies.

That’s right. Our feet.

Most of us are born with two of these babies. Most of them have ten toes, sometimes long and skinny, like fingers, and sometimes short and stubby, like plump little balls. Some are flat and stompy, built to be encased in wide sneakers. Others have a delicate Barbie-arch that slides perfectly into high heeled shoes. Many are somewhere in between.

Do you ever think about how important feet are? Those of us who have them often take them for granted. We stuff them into cheap, too-tight shoes, then trudge through shopping malls, and across parking lots, and around the fields where our kids play sports. Then we complain when our poor tootsies get all swollen and blistered. Some of us torture our feet by making them run long distances on hard pavements. Many other people spend hours every day with their feet sitting on the floor beneath their desks, forgetting that feet, like dogs, need to take a walk, sometimes.

We put our feet through a lot.

Now some people, women especially, pay all kinds of attention to their feet. They worship their feet. They take them to spas and pamper them with professional massages and long, hot soaks. They have pedicures, getting their toenails all purtied up with bright coats of paint. They rub them with scented lotions, then dress them in cute, expensive shoes the way some people dress up their little frou-frou dogs.

I’ll bet feet love people like that.

One of my favorite things to do to nurture my feet is to let the experience nature. Undressed. Unshackled. Just the bare skin of my soles sinking into the warm sand at the beach. Letting the cool ocean waves wash over them. Getting them tickled by blades of grass at the park. Hearing them squelch as they’re sucked into gooey, oozy mud. My feet love that. Well, as long as I stay away from sharp rocks. And bees. And hot asphalt surfaces that make them sizzle like burgers on a grill.

Feet are marvelous things.

Did you know, that if you train them right, they can climb mountains? For real. They can also climb a few flights of stairs every day, if you let them. They can walk all over town, and the best part about that is that you get to see things you may have missed otherwise. Just yesterday, my feet took me along a river trail I’d never taken somewhere near the downtown office where I work. And do you know what I saw? Goats. Like, fifty goats, kids and all, chewing up the grass along the walkway. Right there, in a major metropolitan area. What the what? It was super weird, and a pretty cool sight. And I never would have seen it if not for my trusty feet. (Good girls). Unfortunately, my feet also led me to a coffee shop, where I wound up buying a delicious, fresh-baked cookie. So I guess they still need some more training.

Now I know that some of you are rolling your eyes as you read this. The only thing you want to do with your feet is prop them up on an ottoman while you watch TV. I’m not judging, nor am I pointing any fingers at specific readers. But you know what they say — if the shoe fits…

All I want to do is remind you that, if you train your feet and treat them well, then they’ll reward you. They’ll show you new sights and take you to meet interesting people. They’ll work with your body to get it stronger, fitter, healthier. They’ll remind you that you have these two amazing things attached to your legs to be grateful for every morning. They might even get a little naughty and lead you to a coffee shop that sells yummy, fresh-baked cookies. You’ll never know unless you move them.

Where have your feet led you?

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Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

Que No Pare la Fiesta! (aka: Zumba!)

If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I am a constant ball of energy. Despite my exercise-induced allergic reactions, despite my chronic anemia, and despite my, ehrmgenerous bust size, I love to be active. I work out every single day, with few exceptions. I run, do workouts at the gym, swim, play tennis, and, until recently, soccer.  I also enjoy occasional group fitness classes, like yoga or step aerobics. But by far, the workout I find the most enjoyable is Zumba.

Zumba class fitness

What the heck is Zumba, you ask? Read on:

What is Zumba?

Zumba is a dance party! More specifically, it’s an aerobic dance fitness class featuring music styles such as salsa, reggaeton, cumbia, merengue, cha-cha, soca, hip-hop, flamenco, and rumba. But it is so much fun, that the official Zumba marketing slogan is, “Ditch the Workout — Join the Party!” 

Zumba logo

How did Zumba start?

Zumba started as a mistake in the 1990’s by Columbian dancer and choreographer, Beto Perez, who forgot to bring his aerobics mixtape to a class he was leading. He ended up playing a cassette tape of Latin dance music he had in his car, and the world’s greatest fitness dance party was born. No one could resist swaying their hips and moving their feet to the infectious Latin rhythms. The movement spread, and now, Zumba is practiced by millions of people in more than 100 countries worldwide.

 Who does Zumba?

Everyone! Zumba is not a dance instruction class. Whether you’ve had years of dance and fitness training, or whether you are a newbie with two left feet, you can jump into a Zumba class and have a great time getting in shape. Even though there is usually a big mirror at the front of the studio, people aren’t watching you to make sure you can swing your hips or shake your shoulders correctly. (Thank goodness, because I can’t twerk to save my life, hahaha!)

Zumba Class for All

Is Zumba an effective workout?

Yes! In a forty-minute Zumba class, an average person can burn 350-650 calories. With Zumba’s high energy style and interval-style intensity fluctuations, it has been shown to burn more calories than a number of other group exercise classes, including step aerobics, indoor cycling, hooping, and cardio kickboxing. And just as important — Zumba is fun! The most effective workout is one that you will keep doing on a regular basis. Still not sure? The best way to find out is to throw on your sneakers and head to your nearest Zumba class. Don’t worry about not knowing the steps, because no one is watching. Come join the party!

My Zumba Playlist Favorites

Firehouse — Daddy Yankee

Mi Gente — J Balvin, Willy William

Vem Dancar Kuduro (Oy Oy Oy) — Lucenzo ft. Big Ali

Chantaje — Shakira

Shaky Shaky (Terremoto) — Daddy Yankee

Baila Esta Cumbia — Selena

Don’t Stop the Party — Pitbull, TJR

Moviendo Caderas — Yandel ft. Daddy Yankee

 

 

 

Just Do It Already! (aka: Workout Time)

exercise

 

Okay, everyone — grab your sneakers, pull on your leg warmers, get your water bottle ready. It’s time to workout!

No way, many of you will say. I’m too tired to workout. My schedule is too busy to fit in exercise. I’m not in the mood to workout.  I can’t afford to join a health club. My back/knees/hips are too bad to exercise. I’ll start my exercise program sometime down the line, but not now.

Never now.

It is astounding to me to hear the many excuses that people scrounge up when trying to avoid exercise. It is as though moving their bodies is as dreadful a chore as organizing the garage. Now in some rare circumstances, I can understand why exercise must be put on hold. If your doctor gives you a red light for health reasons, for example. As for the other excuses?

I’m too tired. You’re in luck! Science tells us that exercise gives you a natural energy boost. When you do a moderate workout, your mitochondria kick into high gear, pumping out more energy for your body to use.

My schedule is too busy. As a single mom of three busy kids who holds down a full time job, and, until a few months ago, was also a full-time student, I know all about busy schedules. But I’ve also learned how to prioritize important things, like my health. On those days when I just can’t squeeze 30 minutes at the gym into my schedule, I break up the exercise by taking 10-15 minute walks during my breaks. One of my favorite quick workouts on busy days? Climbing the many stairs in the building where I work. On purpose.

 

Every workout counts

 

I’m not in the mood. Good news — did you know that regular exercise can ease depression and anxiety and generally improve your mood? It can also help you to sleep better, take your mind off worries, and help you to cope with stress in a healthy way.

I can’t afford a health club membership. It is true that gym memberships can be costly. On the other hand, so can health care costs associated with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments than can often be avoided or alleviated by a healthy diet and regular exercise. If a gym membership really can’t be worked into the budget, however, consider some free to low-cost forms of exercise, such as daily walking, bike riding around town, gardening, or at-home aerobic exercises with a video.

 

personal trainer

 

My back/knees/hips are too bad to exercise. These can be legitimate reasons to avoid high-impact workouts, like running, for example. Even my own chronic health issue, cholinergic urticaria, used to be an exercise-stopper before it was treated. But having physical ailments doesn’t have to exclude you from all forms of daily exercise. Many people with bad backs or joint pain have discovered that there are forms of exercise that can benefit them, too. Try low-impact aerobics classes, yoga, or swimming. The strength you gain and the weight you may lose may also help to alleviate discomfort.

I’ll start my exercise program sometime down the line… If not now, then when? You don’t need a New Year’s Resolution or a medical crisis to be your starting point. Nor do you need to start big, by trying to tackle some big exercise program at once. Start your change with small baby steps. Pull in a friend, partner, or coworker for social motivation. Turn that zero minutes a day into ten minutes, then fifteen minutes, until you eventually can follow the Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week. That’s around 20 minutes per day.

 

no workout regrets

 

Not sure where to start? The web is packed with great workout ideas, both moderate and vigorous. If you belong to a health club, consider hiring a personal trainer to design a personalized workout just for you, and to coach you through your routine. If going solo is going nowhere, consider group fitness classes or adult sport leagues. If you hate running, don’t run! Not a swimmer? Try cycling. My current favorites, by the way, are Zumba, tennis, and 20-minute walk/runs. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and switch it up when the workout gets old. Now let’s get in shape!

 

 

Not Milk (aka: 80s Girl Meets Lactose Intolerance)

lactose intolerance stomachaches

I consider myself a super-healthy person. But sometime during the past few months, something changed. It started with a few minor tummy-aches, which made me question everything. Was it something I ate? Was I drinking too much coffee? Was it stress? Then, over time, the discomfort increased. Before long, my body was in constant turmoil. No one knew it, but I was walking around feeling as though my stomach was full of Pop Rocks mixed with Coke, constantly on the verge of explosion.

Yeah, I know. Go to the doctor, dummy. And if I had medical insurance, then I totally would have.

Luckily, I had a light bulb moment a couple of weeks ago. What if my chronic stomach-aching had something to do with dairy products? I did some Googling, and learned that lactose intolerance is something that commonly develops during the adult years; not during childhood as I’d thought.

Could I be lactose intolerant?

It was unthinkable.  After all, I was a child of the 80s. From early childhood, we were force-fed the idea that dairy products were the healthiest thing in the world. Milk does a body good! Cheese, glorious cheese! If I just kept ingesting milk (flavored with Nesquick), then my outside would catch up with my inside, and I would grow from an invisible girl with a crush to a strong, confident woman who has outgrown Michael Martin.

dairy products cheese milk butter Still, I had to find out. So for a few days, I cut dairy out of my diet. Or, tried to. I switched to almond milk cream in my coffee, and gave up my beloved cheese (very hard to do when you are an almost-vegetarian). But the war inside my abdomen didn’t cease. Then I learned more — lactose can be hidden inside many non-dairy foods, like breads and cereals. Noooo!! I would rather live with the chronic stomach upset than give up my favorite foods.

Then I remembered something I’d once seen on a TV commercial. There is an over-the-counter drug called Lactaid, which contains an enzyme that helps the body to digest lactose. Could it work for me, too? In desperation, I raced to the drug store and bought a box of Lactaid chewables. Just before my next meal (spinach and mushroom quiche with swiss cheese), I popped one in my mouth. It was like eating a piece of vanilla-flavored chalk. Then I ate my cheesy dinner, and waited.

Ta-daa! The months-long battle in my gassy, bloated stomach came to a screeching halt. All was quiet on the southern front. I couldn’t believe it! The next day, I chewed a Lactaid before each meal, and the seas continued to be smooth and calm. Same for the next day, and the next. In fact, since I began taking Lactaid, I have returned to my usual, 100% healthy self, and it feels wonderful.

Yes, I know. I am starting to sound like a total drug commercial. Even worse, I can’t think of some clever, humorous way to wrap up this post. I’m too busy thinking about the yummy Garlic Alfredo sauce I plan to cook for dinner, and all the cream and parmesan cheese it will require. But thank goodness — I will be able to sit with my kids and enjoy every bite. Because for the lactose intolerant, Lactaid does a body good. Pass it on.

 

 

 

Slow Can Be Mmm Good (aka: Slow Food)

I like a lot of fast things. Running fast. Speeding fast down a deserted stretch of highway. Fast roller coasters (with fast-moving lines). Fast rock songs that leave you breathless after a fast impromptu dance session. The charge of adrenaline, the fast blood pumping through your veins – speed can be quite a rush.

But not always.

slow sunrise heart Sometimes, slow is much, much better than fast. Slow sunrises on a warm summer morning. Slow hikes through a mountain wilderness. And especially, slow food. No, I don’t mean crippled prey that hobbles away as you aim your hunting rifle. I mean sloooow food, as in the opposite of fast food. As in, the slow food movement, which, in case you don’t know, is an entire thing.

There’s some political stuff, too, but to keep it simple, the slow food movement is about three things:

  • Avoiding fast food and processed foods with long lists of ingredients
  • Buying whole foods, then cooking and eating them
  • Making efforts to buy organic, sustainably grown foods from local growers, and even growing your own

There are so many good reasons to avoid fast food, that I could write an entire blog about it. Or, I can point you toward eye-opening books, such as Fast Food Nation or Food, Inc. I try to very rarely eat fast food. Yes, it can be very challenging in today’s fast-paced culture to make meals a slow-paced affair. Believe me – as a single mom of three kids who just happens to be a college student with a job, I get the whole time-crunch defense. Still, I try to find ways to cook healthy meals from scratch for my family on a regular basis. With a little effort, advanced planning, and some help from the kids, I manage to produce homemade soups and stews, veggie-loaded quiches, and pots of thick, spicy chili. We plant a small, organic garden plot each spring, and by summer, enjoy a harvest of juicy cucumbers, crisp green beans, and plump, colorful tomatoes.

more good slow food

Do we ever take shortcuts? Sure! Schedules can get pretty hectic some days, and there is just no time to wait for a casserole to bake. During times like these, we try to turn toward not-so-fast foods – foods that cook quickly, but are still minimally processed, like grilled cheese sandwiches, veggie omelettes, or homemade bean burritos. Foods like these are nutritious and packed with flavor, and can often be prepared faster than a trip to a drive-thru window.

veggies are the best

There’s one more component of the slow food movement which really appeals to me. It is about slowing down and savoring food. Sitting with family and engaging in conversation while eating meals (something I need to work on). Taking a moment out of our busy lives to enjoy the flavors of good, well-prepared foods, and taking comfort in knowing exactly where they came from and how they were produced. There are plenty of moments in our lives when faster is better. Food, however, is much better in the slow lane.

Wine, food and great friends

 

 

Move It Move It (aka: The Fitness Discussion Again)

If you are reading this right now, then chances are you have some sort of New Year’s Resolution in mind.

Yes, you, readers. All five of you.

It may be something subtle, like, “Eh, I probably shouldn’t eat so much fast food this year.” Or some more ambitious goal, like, “This year, I shall lose fifty pounds!”

Um, good luck with that.

According to Nielsen, the two most popular New Year’s Resolutions year after year pertain to weight loss and fitness: losing weight, keeping it off, and getting physically fit. It’s almost as though we actually recognize that our bodies aren’t meant to lie around on the couch as we feed them Cheetos and root beer (ew).

good health New Year

So how do we achieve these goals? Do we switch to one of those all-meat-no-bread or all-bread-no-meat diets? Invest a few hundred dollars in a membership at that fancy health club with all the high-tech workout equipment? Buy a FitBit? Pin up inspirational magazine pics of fit, skinny people around our work cubicles?

Well you can, if that’s your thing. But here are two things that will probably work a whole lot better:

  1. Consume fewer daily calories (No way!)
  2. Move your body a lot more (*Gasp!*)

I know, I know. These two things are like, physically impossible. But know what? They work for a lot of us. Now, you can join a fancy gym if that’s what works for you, and you can afford it. But really, there are a lot of activities you can try which will help you in your journey, whether your goal is weight loss or maintenance, physical fitness, or just overall enjoyment of life. Here are a few ideas:

Health club/Gym (This means actually going several times a week and like, using the equipment)

Yoga / Zumba / Pilates / Cardio Kickboxing class

Adult sports leagues: Soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball (Especially soccer. Try that one first)

Frisbee

Tennis (try looking for a local meetup group if you need a partner)

Hiking

Dancing (classes or casually)

Roller skating / ice skating / inline skating

Running (Try Couch to 5K ® if you’re not sure where to begin)

Swimming / water aerobics

Paddleboarding / kayaking / rowing

Cross-fit (Some people love the group experience and varied routines)

Cycling (You don’t need an expensive, fancy bike to enjoy biking, and it’s great local transportation, too)

running sports fitness

Just remember: What works for one person may not work for another. I, for example, wouldn’t play basketball if you paid me. But I am crazy about soccer, Frisbee, and tennis. Also, don’t be too quick to decide that a physical activity is not right for you. I was once adamant that my body was not built for running. But I made a commitment to try it for six months, and guess what? I ended up with a body that was built for running. Go figure! At the end of the day, it’s all about which type of exercise will motivate you to get up and move on a regular basis. Every little bit that you do is a step toward achieving your health and fitness goals.