Monday, March 24, 2014

Motivation Monday: #KeepingItReal

Blame the Puritans, blame Glamour, blame Photoshop if you want, but at some point we have to stand up and own the body we’re shakin'. We have to make a statement that “THIS IS REAL” and move forward.
-Lauren Fleshman
Lauren Fleshman, an American track and field athlete, recently wrote a blog post in response to Lady Gaga's critique of her own Glamour cover.  Lady Gaga claimed her, "skin looked too perfect...[her] hair too soft," in the cover photo.  "I believe my true mission is to inspire young people to fight back against forces that make them feel like they're not beautiful or important.  I do not look like this when I wake up in the morning."  She even called the magazines to action stating, "It is fair to write about change in your magazines.  But what I want to see is change on your covers...when the covers change, that is when the culture changes."

Lauren Fleshman's response focused on a photograph of her own taken during a runway show 3 months postpartum, pictured below.  Lauren stated she felt both proud and guilty about the attention the photo received.  While Lauren was proud of her accomplishment, even if the above picture was taken at her best angle you can't argue that looking that good 3 months postpartum isn't an accomplishment, she also referred to the photo as "fantasy."  
 That photo was me, but it was me at my most excellent. A moment in time. The point of the stride free from gravity. The angle of repose. I was acting the part of a superhero in a Marvel movie. It showed no evidence of all of my imperfections. That picture was what we all want to feel about ourselves, myself included. I spent my teenage years looking at fantasy photos like that and feeling inadequate. And now it was my body in that photo. 
Source: Lauren Fleshman's runway shot
Lauren Fleshman sought to expose the "fantasy" of her runway photo by posting some of her least flattering pictures of herself taken just a week after the runway show next to the runway photo.  These photos were not taken at the perfect moment when her stomach was sucked in just right with her muscles flexed.  She posted a picture of her when she wasn't in the "perfect posture" and squeezing the "flab" around her thigh.  It took Lauren over 6 months to get the courage to post the blog she typed a week after the runway shoot.
I had similar feelings about pictures I posted in January in an effort to encourage people to both make and follow through with their New Years resolutions.

My weight loss journey over 7 years
Just like Lauren I was, and still am, extraordinarily proud of these photos.  They represent tremendous personal progress, years of planning and not missing workouts, countless 4:30 a.m. workouts, and a refusal to give up.  However, there are several things these pictures don't show.

I started to lose the weight in my teens, which made it easier.  After trying for years to lose weight I lost the weight almost by accident when I spent an entire summer riding my bike to work and teaching swim lessons.  After that I realized the many benefits of adding activity to all parts of your day.  Since then I have chosen to walk places over driving/taking the bus whenever possible, take the steps over the elevator, standing over sitting on the train, etc.  While these are beneficial for everyone, for some weight loss is much harder and takes constant monitoring of daily activity and food intake.  When I first lost the weight I hardly changed my diet, and I still indulge in sweets much more than I should.  So while the weight loss was not easy for me, it was definitely easier than it can be for others.

These photos also don't show that running came pretty naturally to me.  I believe almost anyone can run and there is no "runner's body."  However, I do think running comes easier to me than it can be for others, and it's an activity I genuinely enjoy for aspects other than weight loss.  While weight loss "transformations" can be motivational, they can also lead people to compare their progress, goals, and motivations to others, which can be as detrimental as images like Lady Gaga's Glamour cover and Lauren's runway photo.  

Transformation pictures don't show the days I skipped the gym, the workouts I ended early, the times I chose cookies for breakfast, or the times I gave up.  They're simply proof that more times than not I chose to keep going, and each race day photo shows the continuation of my journey in a healthy, active, and happy lifestyle.  Below I've included some tips to sticking to weight loss goals that have helped me over the years and can be molded to fit your individual needs and motivations.

Color Run 2012

Tips for Sticking to Your Weight Loss Goals:
  • Find fitness activities & healthy foods you like: If you don't like it you're not going to stick to it.  I truly believe there is a a form of physical activity for everyone.  If you don't like running don't force yourself to spend hours every week on the treadmill.  Try group fitness, try spinning, try mall walking...whatever it takes to get yourself up and moving for at least 30 minutes every day.  Same thing goes for healthy eating.  If you're not a fan of brussels sprouts don't put them in your meal plan, it will just make you more likely to head for the cup cakes after a long day.  That being said, there are thousands of healthy food cookbooks and blogs and you are bound to find some healthy foods you like.  Keep experimenting until you find something you like!
  • Invest in Yourself: If you find a gym or group fitness studio you like and can find a way to fit in your budget join!  A financial investment will make you more likely to go, especially if it is something you really enjoy.  If you can't find something affordable try looking for free classes on weekends or running groups, there are tons out there!
  • Plan for Everything: Schedule your workouts for the week on Sunday, and try to think about what you will do in case you oversleep your alarm or get stuck at work late.  Plan your meals as much as you can ahead of time even if you don't prep them ahead of time.  Traveling for work?  Plan hotel workouts and try to bring healthy snacks from home instead of buying airport food.
  • Add steps to your day: Whether it be parking further away from your office or the grocery store so scraping the car altogether, make it impossible for you to avoid physical activity.  Take the steps.  Walk the dog.  Walk to the coffee shop instead of driving.  Continuing to move more is critical in continuing weight loss, and making it a part of your daily activity instead of a chore will make it that much easier.  
  • Reward Yourself for Victories: And try not to make it a "cheat meal" or some type of food reward.  Made it to the gym 5 times this week?  Reward yourself with a new workout outfit!  Ran in that 5K you've been training for?  Pedicure!  Didn't eat dessert all week?  New cooking appliance you've been wanting! 
  • Don't compare your progress to others: Unfortunately weight loss, like life, is just not fair.  It comes easier to some and the only thing you will get by comparing yourself to other is discouragement.  Find other ways to motivate yourself by setting your own goals.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Is Your Whole Grain Bread Really Better Than White Bread?

"If you have a body, you are an athlete."
-Bill Bowerman

Anyone that seeks to train their body, whether it be for weight loss purposes, entertainment, or competition, is an athlete.  Nutrition is a vital component of an athlete's training regimen.  When I was working in AmeriCorps one of our key lessons for the kids was "Choose Brown Over White," meaning choose whole grain products.  In the past few years this concept has been widely publicized and many people are choosing whole grain products over refined products, but several people don't have an understanding of why these products are healthy, and even worse some products are being marketed as "whole grains" but have been stripped of the healthy benefits.

What is a whole grain?
Whole grains are grains in their natural state-i.e. they have not been stripped of any of their natural components.  Whole grains contain three parts; the bran, the endosperm, and the germ.  Whole grains contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions.  

Source: The Whole Grain Council

Why are whole grains healthier?
Whole, unprocessed grains contain several beneficial nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and fiber.  Fiber is especially important because it helps slow down the digestion of foods leaving you with a "full" feeling for longer, which can aid in weight loss.  Whole grains are also higher in protein than refined grains.

Other health benefits that have been shown in diets higher in whole grains include:
  • Decreased cholesterol levels
  • Lower risk of obesity
  • Reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive cancers, and hormone related cancers
How do I know what I am eating is a whole grain?
Once you have decided to choose whole grains it can be difficult to determine which products are actually whole grains.  In order to make this process easier the Whole Grain Council has developed the Whole Grain Stamp, which companies can place on their products so consumers know the product they are buying is in fact a whole grain.
If there is no stamp you should check the ingredients list, several companies will list the amount of whole grains in grams so you can be sure of the content.  In addition if the package says "100% whole wheat" you are good to go!

Terms to stay away from (Red Light):
  • enriched flour
  • degerminated (or corn meal)
  • bran
  • wheat germ
Terms to be cautious about (Yellow Light):
  • wheat, or wheat flour
  • semolina
  • durum wheat
  • organic flour
  • stoneground
  • multigrain (may contain a mixture of whole grains and refined grains)
Terms that are good to go (Green Light):
  • whole grain [name of grain]
  • whole wheat
  • whole [other grain]
  • stoneground whole [grain]
  • brown rice
  • oats, oatmeal
  • wheatberries
For more information visit the Whole Grain Council website!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Race Recap: New York City Half Marathon

The man who says he can, and the man who says he cannot, are both usually right.

Well on my way to 2015 NYC Marathon!

The weekend leading up to the half marathon was packed, starting Thursday with bib pick up.  Most half and full marathons host an expo during the days leading up to the race for participants to pick up their race day bags and various venders will sell running merchandise at a discounted price.  I volunteered to help with bib handout in order to earn my +1 credit for entry into the 2015 NYC Marathon.  I wasn't too impressed with the NYC Half expo so after I picked up my bib I checked in, received my volunteer shirt, and spent the next six hours handing out bibs to excited and nervous runners.  It was fun to see the diversity in runners. There were runners of all ages, for some it was their first half marathon and then there were several that had been racing for years, and each runner had a very different reason for deciding to run 13.1 miles through the heart of Manhattan.

Volunteering at the Expo
The day before the race CeCe, Genny, and I ran the Lucky Dash 5K.  After a leisurely trip to Trader Joe's--my first TJ's trip and yes I am now a huge TJ's fan- we realized we had the starting location confused and made a sprint to the subway and the start of the race.  Once we finally made it there we toned down our pace to a light jog so I wouldn't be too tired for the half.  The race was very relaxed, we didn't even have bibs, and it was the perfect warm up.  After the race we had brunch at Genny's and spent the day relaxing in her beautiful and festively decorated apartment!  CeCe also made her own take on a Skinnytaste bell pepper and potato frittata recipe--middle left below--with sweet potatoes, it was delicious in case anyone is looking for a new brunch recipe! 

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Sunday it was finally race day!  I was extremely excited, but also very nervous because it was a little colder than I was hoping for and pretty windy.  I had breakfast with CeCe, which has become a very nice pre-race tradition for, and then headed downtown.  Since the race started at 7:30 am on a Sunday it was mostly runners on the subway, which I always find fun.  Getting into the park was a little bit of an adventure because everyone had to go through a metal detector which took forever.  I was supposed to start at 7:45, but didn't end up getting to my corral until almost 8 am.  I felt much better once I started moving, and even though it was 30 degrees and I was in shorts I didn't even feel cold.  About 2.5 miles in two of my friends, Kyle and Sha, were there cheering me on, which gave me a great burst of energy.
Pictures of me racing from Sha

Since I've run through central park so many times the beginning of the race was pretty predictable and easy.  It was fun having all the spectators, and there were tons of funny signs.  Based off the NYC Half I can say the top 3 reasons people will run 13.1 miles at 7:30 am on a cold Sunday morning are puppies, bacon, and beer.  Once we got through the park you run down 7th Avenue right into Times Square, which everyone told me was the best part, and they were right.  Times Square is usually a mess of tourists and people trying to get you to buy things, and generally one of my least favorite places to go in Manhattan, but running through the clear streets with people cheering was awesome!

From Times Square you head west on 42nd Street to the West Side Highway, which was not so awesome.  42nd Street was essentially a wind tunnel and by the time I made it out to the highway my body was basically numb.  Once you're on the highway it's about a 6 mile run straight down through the Financial District to the finish line on Wall Street.  It was cool seeing the skyline from a different perspective, and if I hadn't cared about my time I would have stopped to take some pictures because it was a gorgeous day- minus the wind.  CeCe and Genny met me at the finish line with my dry clothes and helped me to open the gatorades in my refuel bag since my hands were completely numb.

They're the best!
I was incredibly happy that I not only beat my goal of under 2 hours, but was more than 7 minutes under with a time of 1:52:36--about an 8:36/mile pace!  

Less than 9 weeks until the Brooklyn Half Marathon- my next race for 9+1, and my third half marathon.  I'm hoping to shave another 3 minutes off my time to get down to ~1:49.  Keep checking for updates on training, workouts, and nutrition tips!  Thank you so much for your support in the NYC Half Marathon!!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Signs of Spring, Final Training Runs, New Beginnings & A Special Offer

"When you complain your mood changes.  When you work your momentum changes."
-TJ Tysus

Today we were rewarded for our loss of sleep this weekend with some amazing Spring-like weather!  There is nothing like running outside in 50 degree weather after months of running in subfreezing temps or on the treadmill.  Puddles everywhere showed signs that Spring is right around the corner, and Connecticut will no longer be a giant ice block.  Even the path in the woods I usually run on, until it was buried under feet of snow for the winter, was finally visible, but extremely muddy.  I've been tapering off my runs, but it was so nice today I ran 6 miles at what I hope will be my race pace, about 8:50.  

So excited to replace my black Winter wardrobe with bright Spring colors again!
I'm starting to have some pre-race day nerves--worrying about what to wear for the weather, of course my iPhone is suddenly having problems playing music so I might be running sans headphones (I did my first half without them due to rain so it wouldn't be the end of the world), but mostly I am just excited to run one of the most exciting races in the US!  If you're interested in tracking me while I run be sure to download the app from the app store.

I've fallen behind on my blogging recently as I've been going through the most arduous processes known to man- job searching.  However, I am extremely happy to announce that I will be starting a new job at the end of month as a Senior Research Assistant with a pregnancy nutrition and fitness intervention study.  One of my major interests while I was in grad school was prenatal and early childhood nutrition, which led me to obtain an additional personal training certification in pre/postnatal training.  This job is perfect for me because it will allow me to further explore this area and even use some of my training skills to work with the women in the study.  It will also provide me with the opportunity to explore several career paths and, hopefully, help me solidify what I want to do in the future.

With a new season and a new beginning I have definitely been thinking a lot about goals I want to set for myself in terms of this new position, the future, and training.  Maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle even though my new job is technically a "desk job" is one of my biggest priorities.  I have used the past couple weeks to develop a workout schedule for myself and start meal planning.  In order to make sure I stay up to date with advancements in the personal training world I plan to update this blog at least twice a week with nutrition and workout tips- check out my Pinterest boards I made especially to go along with this blog- and stay tuned for more posts in the future.   

Special Offer

Since I was unable to reach my original fundraising goal I have decided to continue fundraising with Livestrong as I train for my third half marathon, Brooklyn Half, in the beginning of May.  As an incentive I am offering your choice of individualized weekly meal plans for 1 month, training programs for 5K/10K/half marathons, or a 1 month strength training program in exchange for a Livestrong donation.  Please email me (, and pass along the offer to any friends.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the many people that have supported me throughout job searching, marathon training, fundraising, and of course reading and spreading this blog!!!  Here's to the start of many more adventures!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Race Recap: Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
-Dr. Seuss
Happy belated birthday Dr. Seuss!
I had a fabulous race day today!  Today was my first New York Road Runners race of 2014.  NYRR offers automatic entry into the New York City marathon through a program known as 9 + 1.  Runners that compete in 9 scored runs and volunteer for 1 race receive automatic entry into the next years NYC Marathon.  So today I started out my journey towards the 2015 NYC Marathon with a relatively easy and super fun St. Patty's Day themed 5K in Washington Heights.

Loved the t-shirts
Last year I paced 8:30 for this race and was super excited about it!  However, I was pretty confident I could beat that so my goal for this race was to beat my 5K PR (personal record) of 8:03.  This was my time in the Harlem 5K in August.  Washington Heights has some monster hills, though, so I wasn't sure if I would be able to beat this.  Fortunately the weather was not too cold today, so after breakfast and coffee with CeCe I hopped on the subway and headed up to the Heights.  Columbia University Medical Center, where I completed my masters program, was at the start of the race course so it was fun to be back.  I was extremely pleased when I finished in 24:39 (7:57 pace!), and even more proud of myself for passing on the green bagels.

It's always fun to repeat races to see how much you've improved.  This time last year I was training for my very first half marathon, and looked at the runners that continued to run after the race like they were slightly insane.  This year I ran down the West Side Highway back to CeCe's apartment, about 4 miles, after the race.  It was a little cold since I was no longer running at a racing pace, but it was beautiful.

George Washington Bridge
I wrapped up the day with a free yoga class at Pure Yoga on the UES hosted by Dr. Metzl.  The studio is gorgeous and extremely peaceful, and I've been extraordinarily tight so it was just what I needed.  It was a great way to end race day!  

One race down- 8 to go!  Next up- NYC Half Marathon in 2 weeks!!!