Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Color Run! (Why You Should Run a 5K)

See this? It's a picture of me, my BFF, her hubby, and our friend, soaked in rain, a little muddy, and of course, full of COLOR! This was taken last Saturday, just after we ran in The Color Run 5K held in Tempe, Arizona. If you don't know about The Color Run, check it out here: http://thecolorrun.com/
I love the picture above in particular because it shows the contrast of just how gray the skies were that day as we ran in the rain, being pelted by clouds of brightly colored powder along the way, much like this:

This was only my second 5K and I ran nearly the entire way! I felt so amazing at the end and despite being concerned at first about the rain, I actually loved that added element. There was just something about running in the rain, through puddles and mud, in between people clad in ponchos squirting (and sometimes just plain dumping) vibrant colored, sweet smelling corn starch that nourished the eight year old girl in me and made my feet feel somehow lighter.

I ran my first 5K (also with my BFF) for My Team Triumph in September of last year. (More about that organization here: http://www.mtt-az.org/) The race was timed (unlike the Color Run) and I really wanted to do well because we ran as a team. It was super exciting because it was my first 5K and it was for such an important and amazing cause. I walked about a third of the way and ran the rest. The feeling of crossing that finish line was incredible, and I was hooked. I promptly decided I was going to find as many 5K races as I could and set a goal to eventually run one the entire way (this was a big goal for me because I am not a runner, at all).

Then, reality set in. I realized I was still a busy wife, mother, full time employee, and that there are also fees associated with nearly every race, fun run, walk, or other similar event. No matter how badly I wanted to participate in the Susan G. Komen race, the "Tough Mudder" or the local half marathon (insert wild laughter here), I didn't know how I was going to find the time, or the money.

Then in October, the BFF reminded me about The Color Run. It wasn't scheduled until January, and as long as we registered before the end of the month, the fee was reasonable. I was sold. I hopped on the computer, punched in my credit card number, and waited. For three months, I waited. The night before the event, we all drove up to Tempe and stayed in a hotel. It was that, or wake up around 5 a.m. and drive two hours before running. No thanks. This is us "preparing" for The Color Run:

(BFF's hubby ended up with my red shades at the actual run)

(Yes, I did wear rainbow socks and a sweat band)
(This photo is from the BFF's blog: http://mommacandy.com/, where you can also read about the experience)
I was so excited I could hardly sleep. The oddly overheated hotel room and not sleeping in my own bed didn't help either. But I didn't care. At 6 a.m. I woke up and wasn't my usual, ahem, morning self. I was happy. And energized. And ready to get dressed, get breakfast, and get to that starting line. Then I heard it. The pelting on the window. The weather man on the television, explaining that, yes, as we had heard it might, it was in fact, raining. This was going to be interesting...
We went downstairs and found several others dressed like us, some also in tutus (super jealous), eating breakfast and occasionally checking to make sure that yes, the rain was still coming down. I had a yummy bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, raisins, walnuts, and banana slices. Awesome carbs and protein combination to fuel up for a wet run! Despite watching a few people come back from the starting line muttering about how "horrible it was out there" we climbed into the shuttle and headed out. The rest is history. I came, I ran, I conquered. And at the end of the race, there was a huge, crazy, color throwing party, complete with a DJ and tons of muddy, color streaked, gleeful, crazy people just like us. And all before 9 a.m. Here's another post-run picture, courtesy of http://mommacandy.com/:
Whether you choose to participate in a crazy event like The Color Run, or a simple fun run, get out there and run a 5K! I say run, but if you can't run, walk it, and run whatever you can. The feeling of accomplishment and giddiness that comes from crossing a finish line after those 3.1 miles is something I wish I could bottle and sell. But since I can't, go out there and get it for yourself. You won't be sorry. Our little foursome has already committed to doing The Color Run every year from now on. But before then, I will still be on the hunt for my next 5K, even if I can only sneak one more in this year. And for the record, the race took place Saturday, it is now Tuesday, and not only am I just getting to posting about this, but I also just barely got my shoes clean from all the color (there's still some in my hair). There's a reason the first word in the name of this blog is "busy".  Good night!


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why You Should Drink Green Smoothies

Okay, okay, stay with me, you've made it this far! I realize that to a lot of people, the thought of drinking a green(ish) drink is less than appealing. And you might look at the picture above and think, there is no way I want to stick a straw in that and guzzle it down. But here's the thing: green smoothies can and do taste really good!! And the benefits of drinking green smoothies are awesome. Drinking one nutrient dense smoothie every day can help drastically reduce sugar cravings and improve fiber intake, which helps promote weight loss/weight management. For more examples of green smoothie benefits, click here: http://greensmoothiesblog.com/health-benefits-green-smoothie/

I drink a green smoothie every day. Without fail. While I am not even close to certified in... well, anything, I can give you my own personal, albeit anecdotal, opinion: they work. Once I incorporated a green smoothie into my daily routine, I had tons more energy, felt fuller throughout the day, and had less sugar cravings. Now here are some reasons why, even if you're a busy lady like myself, you CAN make them part of your routine too:

1. They're easy to make and clean up. All you need is a blender, some fruits, green veggies, liquid (if you want a thinner smoothie) and ice (and that's optional, I don't use ice in winter). Blend everything up and rinse out the blender. Done.

2. There are about a gazillion smoothie recipes out there, so you won't get bored. Just google "green smoothie" or "green monster smoothie". Also, see below for links to some of my favorites.

3. You can make them ahead. So many people tell me, "I don't have time to make a smoothie every day" or "I wanted to make one, but the day just got away from me". And I tell them: make your smoothie at night, before you go to bed, and pour it into an airtight container (I use a canning jar). The next morning, pull it out, shake it up, and guzzle. Or, you can even take it with you to work and save it for a mid-morning snack like I often do.

4. Kids like them too. Because they taste good. Really, I swear! So you can double a recipe and share with your kids or hubby and maybe help them make better choices too. Win, win. If your kids are reluctant to try them at first, you can start by adding just one or two spinach leaves or pieces of kale to the first smoothie, and gradually increasing the amount each day or each week. Baby steps.

My go to Green Smoothie recipe can be found here: http://greenmonstermovement.com/ along with tons of reader recipes for green smoothies. When I make it, I use:

1 banana (frozen)
1 cup vanilla almond milk, unsweetened
1 tbsp chia seeds
2 handfuls (about a cup each) spinach
1 tbsp raw almond butter (you don't have to use raw, it's easier to find the no stir kind, but it contains sugar)
Protein powder (optional, I add this to my smoothie if I am going to drink it before or after a workout, or if want to use my smoothie to replace a meal)

Here is a link to the protein powder I use: http://www.gardenoflife.com/Products-for-Life/Foundational-Nutrition/RAW-Protein.aspx

Other links for green smoothie recipes I love:



You will notice when you start to look up green smoothie recipes that everyone has their own special blending instructions. I will be honest with you, I don't follow them. I just combine everything and blend until smooth. Done. But it does help to put the ingredients in the blender in a certain order, especially if your blender is not that powerful. The order I use is:

Yogurts and/or butters (such as almond butter or protein powder-if using)
Frozen fruit and/or ice

If I am adding protein powder, I blend everything else first and then add the protein powder at the end and blend a little more.

Other tips:

If your recipe calls for banana, go with a frozen banana. They make the smoothie taste creamier and more like a shake, which is nice on days when you might be craving that sort of thing. I take bananas, peel them, break them in half, and freeze in plastic bags every week so that I always have them on hand.

If a recipe calls for something you don't have, just omit it (unless it's greens), or replace it with something else. There's no exact science to this! Experiment with combinations. Add stuff you like to existing recipes. And if there is an ingredient you don't have, but have also never tried, like chia seeds for instance, maybe go buy some and try something new too.

If you end up drinking your green smoothie in a public place, like work or school, ignore those who may give you funny looks or make snarky comments. People are idiots. Don't let that deter you from doing something great for yourself! Even if it's your own friends or family members.

DISCLAIMER: Lastly, I want to be sure that anyone reading this knows: I don't advocate for any kind of juice cleanses, or all smoothie diets, or anything of the kind. What I recommend to people is to simply add one green smoothie per day to an existing diet. That's what works for me and I hope it will work for you too.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Baby Steps

That's my "baby", who is now three, eating an apple in the middle of an orchard in Willcox, Arizona.

I am nearly finished with a two week "no sugar challenge" (that post is forthcoming), and as much as I thought I knew about checking labels, I had absolutely no idea how many products out there contain sugar, even when there is seemingly no reason they should. As a result of this, I have had to search a lot longer and harder for products I can use during the challenge. Which is probably why so many people lose weight on these challenges: they're not easy to commit to, let alone navigate.

When it comes to eating, I am not a dyed in the wool, well... anything. I don't eat only a vegan diet, or gluten free, or paleo, or raw, or (until recently) sugar free, or even a clean diet all the time. I do, however, tend to gravitate toward foods and recipes that fall into these categories. That being said, I do purchase and consume some packaged and canned, and yes, even some "processed" products. I try my very best to be as selective as possible with those products, but from time to time, I do eat something that a lot of those who write the blogs I follow might faint over. For instance, Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano Cookies. No, I don't want to learn how to make a healthier or clean version of them. They are perfect. And I love them. It's pretty rare now for me to buy or eat them, but what I am trying to convey here is that I will never outlaw them entirely from my life. Just like I don't believe I will ever outlaw all meat or animal by-products, or all cooked food, or carbs, or gluten, etc. I am fortunate enough not to have any food allergies, so I don't have to commit to an anything-free eating plan. But I also don't judge or question those who do. Different strokes for different folks.

It's been my experience that often, people looking to make healthy changes in their lives feel a need to go really extreme, rather than start with some small changes and build on them. When this happens, I believe people are almost always setting themselves up to fail. I've had people tell me they are starting the paleo diet, or two days of a juice fast followed by only protein and veggies for six weeks, when these same people have been eating mainly fast/junk food for years. Suddenly, a person who rarely consumes vegetables and lean protein is going to live on grilled fish and leafy greens and succeed? I think not. The same goes for all the people who make New Year's resolutions to run two miles every day, or rush out and buy P90X, even though they may never have committed to any kind of exercise routine before. I think some of this tendency toward the extreme comes from a desire for instant results, and some of it may come from a desire to prove to themselves and other people that "I'm really doing something".

I try (usually in vain) to tell people that creating a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their families doesn't have to be an "all in" thing at the beginning. Instead, my philosophy is, make a few small changes, "baby steps", especially to your diet in the beginning. Then make a few more. And then a few more. Think of it as building a house, brick by brick. And when I say small, I mean small. Decide to eat one serving of vegetables every day. Just one. A handful of baby carrots. And then find a few more vegetables that you like, and add one more serving of those vegetables to just two days every week. And so on. Until eating vegetables every day just becomes part of your routine. Commit yourself to walking your dog, even once a week. Then make it two days a week, and so on. Then start running for 30 seconds and walking for four minutes, running for 30 seconds, walking another four minutes. Whatever you can do. Just keep building on it.

Another suggestion is to swap one or two of the products you really like or regularly consume every month with a similar one that's better for you. Below is a list of "switcheroos" that I have incorporated into the way I eat over the last two years:

Swap soy sauce for Bragg Liquid Aminos. You can find Bragg's products at most health food stores including Sprouts, Sunflower, and Whole Foods. Liquid Aminos taste just like soy sauce, but they contain no preservatives, no alcohol, and they are gluten free. Plus they contain 16 Amino Acids and they are made with certified non-GMO soybeans. Oh yeah, and they have ZERO CALORIES.

Swap your regular hot sauce for Frank's Red Hot sauce. Frank's is made with only five, natural ingredients. Most other hot sauces contain weird chemicals that aren't necessary or good for you. Frank's also has ZERO CALORIES. Put it on air popped popcorn. Or dip celery sticks in it. Put it on scrambled eggs. The possibilities are endless.

Swap spicy mustard for mayonnaise as a mix-in for tuna. Tuna is an excellent, low in fat source of protein that many people start eating regularly when they decide to adopt a healthier lifestyle. A pitfall here, however, is that canned tuna doesn't taste very good dry. At all. So people want to mix it with something and most commonly that something is mayonnaise. But mayonnaise is high in fat, so many people then go out and buy "low fat" mayonnaise. Instead, if you use spicy mustard, you avoid all the fat AND all the calories. And you avoid all of the chemicals typically found in low fat versions of mayonnaise.

Swap egg whites for whole eggs. I don't suggest this for all of the eggs you eat, because the egg yolk does contain all of the nutrients an egg has to offer. But if you already like to eat omelets, try using 2 egg whites and one whole egg instead. Or if you like to eat hardboiled eggs like I do, eat the whites and give the dog the yolk. An egg white has only 17 calories, zero fat, zero carbs, and 3.5 grams of protein.

Swap almond milk for cow's milk. This is my preference. You may prefer to swap soy milk for cow's milk, or maybe rice milk, coconut milk, even hemp milk. They are all options but almond milk and soy milk are the most accessible, available at nearly every grocery store and Walmart. I like the taste and texture of almond milk the best, and typically buy the unsweetened vanilla flavor. One cup of almond milk comes in 30 calories, versus even skim milk which contains 80 calories per cup. For me, that's the main advantage. But I also like it because I try to minimize my intake of dairy in general. I find the less dairy I consume, the less sluggish I feel. But I don't think I could ever live a life of never having a little low fat cottage cheese or greek yogurt. And speaking of....

Swap greek yogurt for regular yogurt. Greek yogurt has tons more protein. Adding more protein to your diet leaves you feeling fuller, longer, which can lead to you eating less (if that's one of your goals). I also find I like the tangier taste of greek yogurt better than regular yogurt. I buy plain, non-fat greek yogurt every week and use it in smoothies, sauces, parfaits, and tons of other recipes.

Swap apple sauce for oil in baked recipes like cakes and muffins. It works! And drastically lowers the fat content. You can easily find ratios for how to make this swap online (it's not typically cup for cup).

And finally, and I realize this may be a big, rather than my promised "small" change for people, but... swap honey, agave nectar, or Stevia for refined sugar. I fully realize there are recipes where this just doesn't work. But it does work in so many recipes. And making this swap can be as simple as switching from sugar to honey in your tea. Or mixing some agave instead of brown sugar with your oatmeal. And here's something awesome: Stevia comes in flavored liquid form, and is available in this form at most health food stores. Something I like to do if I am craving a soda is mix about ten drops of root beer flavored stevia with plain seltzer water. It's not the same thing, but it has enough of the essence I am looking for to satisfy my craving. You can also get the vanilla flavor and use it in your morning coffee instead of flavored creamer. And best of all, these two naturally flavored drink options have, you guessed it, ZERO CALORIES.

So there it is, a list of eight options for small changes you can make now, if you are starting a journey to healthier living. You don't have to go all hardcore right out of the gate. In fact, in my opinion, you shouldn't. Just try a few small changes at a time. Build habits and routines, and find your own eating style, whatever it is. But please, in the beginning, don't set yourself up to fail by biting off more than you can chew (so to speak).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Notebook

I'll admit it: I'm old school. I like to write things down. On paper. I have done this ever since I can remember, beginning with writing myself reminders on little sticky notes. I like to write down thoughts and ideas as soon as they come to me because with my chaotic life, if I don't write something down almost as soon as I think of it, it disappears from my brain. It may pop up again months later, but usually by then, it's too late to do anything about it. So I write things down. Constantly.
At my first real job out of college, my co-workers used to laugh at me because since we didn't have designated work areas, they would find my sticky note reminders to myself  and mini grocery/to do lists all over our workspace. So I started putting them in my purse. And then I would find them in my purse, months later, when they were virtually useless. Eventually, I started buying notebooks. This made a lot more sense than the sticky notes. And now, whenever I have an idea, a grocery list, a recipe or workout routine I want to try, or if I am brainstorming meal plans, whatever, I write it down in "The Notebook".
Right now the notebook is one I bought over the summer when the last one ran out of paper. It has a pink cover which is rarely seen because it is usually opened to a page where I wrote down a new green smoothie recipe or an idea for this blog. We are also in the process of house hunting at the moment, so I've also been using the notebook to write down any houses I see online or in neighborhoods that I want to know more about. If I don't have my notebook with me, I have a notebook app in my phone which I use to jot things down on the go. But when I get home, that information is usually transferred to the notebook.
See, I like to have a tangible copy of all my stuff. And when I'm done with something, like a to do list, I like to use a pen and cross it out. Accomplished! It just doesn't feel the same to me on a computer.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for technology. And I often type grocery lists or budgets on the computer over my lunch break at work when I don't have my notebook with me. But my notebook is truly my "bible" at home. I am constantly referring back to it and adding things to it. My kids and husband know not to touch it or move it. Yes, even if it's laying in the middle of the living room floor, open, being stepped on by the dog. Leave it alone. Don't use it for anything, or "clean up" by putting it somewhere I can't find it. Because I will burn holes through you with my eyes when I can't find it and need it.
I bring the notebook with me into the kitchen almost every day when I'm cooking dinner or making smoothies. (I should explain here that I had an unfortunate glass cracking incident/oopsie with my Ipad in the kitchen once and because of that lingering trauma, I will NEVER bring an Ipad or laptop into my kitchen again). So if I see a recipe I want to make online, I bookmark it. Then later, when I want to make it, if it's too much to recall from memory, I look it up and write it down in the notebook. The notebook is always welcome in the kitchen. That's also why it's kind of icky on some pages.
The whole point of this post is to offer a suggestion to those of you who are trying to lose weight or kick start an exercise routine. Or maybe you just feel scattered a lot, like I do. Get a notebook. It's such a great way to keep all your thoughts and ideas together in one place, even if you can't do anything about those ideas at that very moment. For instance, maybe your friend tells you about a new fitness class you want to try. Write it down: "look up boot camp class at XYZ gym". Even if you don't get to it until a week later, it's there. And when you have some spare time (I know, I know, yeah right), you can look through the notebook and go "oh yeah! I wanted to try that class. I should call my friend and ask her when she's going." The same goes for recipe ideas, household projects, meal planning, and creating goal lists. Writing things down is so important in the goal planning process. So do yourself a favor, get a notebook (not sticky notes). See if it works for you. If not, you're out about five bucks and you can send me a scathing email here. Just kidding, please be nice to me. I'm a tender soul.