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May 2014

Yoga Saturday: Shiva Rea Meditations

Shiva rea meditationsEvery time I do one of these DVDs, I realize something about myself. Today it was "Wow, am I a shallow breather!"

I really didn't know what to expect when I put in Shiva Rea Meditations (Acacia, $19.99), which comes out on June 3. I figured it was a bunch of lying on your back and chanting stuff, but I was wrong. The DVD is a compilation of meditations from Shiva's previous DVDs, all gathered up on one disc that gives you over 100 minutes to choose from.

You can either do the two preset Solar and Lunar meditations or you can make a custom practice with the matrix. I hopped around the matrix, which doesn't seem meditative at all, but the more mini meditations I did, the more I wanted to do.

I started with a meditation for women, which has you doing some self massage and basically basking in the awesomeness of your womanhood (arms raised to the sky and all). Then I did one of the solar meditations, which was nicely energizing, and I ended with a savasana, which is what I first had expected -- lying on the floor in corpse pose and deeply relaxing. 

That's when I realized that I was barely breathing. When I forced the air deep into my lungs, my head swam for a second. (I think I need more oxygen in my life.)

I loved this DVD -- it's a great little vacation for the mind, whether for just 5 minutes or a half hour.

Can I lose weight ‘for free’? Let’s see…

Ever since the age of 10, I have been paying something or someone to help me lose weight.

This has been going on for four decades.

From storefront meetings to online meetings, meal delivery plans to psychologists, I have been feeding the coffers of the weight loss industry for far too long.

Can I do this without paying?

I’m going to try.

There are so many great, free resources nowadays – My Fitness Pal, SparkPeople, Lose It, RunKeeper – that it’s easy to have an arsenal of great no-cost tools on your smartphone. And there’s another one that actually pays YOU to do the right thing.

Pact screenshotI know it’s been around for a while but a few weeks ago I signed up for Pact, which used to be called GymPact. You make a pact with the app to log your meals, eat so many servings of fruits and vegetables, and go to the gym or walk at least 10,000 steps on Fitbit. The food logging Pact is connected to My Fitness Pal, the gym uses GPS to find where you're at, and the fruit and veggie logging is done by taking a photo of your food and having the Pact community give you a thumbs up or down on it. (My teenager calls it "Tinder for vegetables.")

I’m already up to $35 on Pact, and every week I make the stakes a little higher. You choose how many things you’ll do for each Pact and how much you’ll give up if you miss the mark.

I have learned a lot from all the things I have paid for, but it’s time to cut the purse strings and do it for free.

Starchy carbs, I wish I knew how to quit you

I took last week’s New York Times Sunday Review section to the gym this morning. It was the one with the giant multi-decker sandwich on the cover. The article, titled "Always Hungry? Here's Why," written by David S. Ludwig and Mark Friedman, poses the question:

“What if we’ve confused cause and effect? What if it’s not overeating that causes us to get fat, but the process of getting fatter that causes us to overeat?”

Things that make you go hmmm

To boil it down, the laws of thermodynamics go screwy in the presence of excess body fat, and you end up in a vicious circle of losing and gaining the same few pounds because your body is perfectly happy at its set point -- even if that set point is too high. Cutting back calories only exacerbates the problem as the body seeks its normal.


So what's the enemy? What can we blame?

Rapidly digested carbohydrates, aka, everything that isn't a broccoli or a chicken.

Dang it, I love those starchy things! But I know that my weight loss goes much better when I replace those foods with -- gasp -- fats.

And it totally effs with my mind.

But I really need to wrap my head around the fact that, for me at least, 100 calories of avocado is a better choice than 100 calories of bread. I've written about this before, I know, but the paradigm shift is so radical for members of "Generation SnackWell" that it bears repeating.

Put down the air-popped popcorn; pick up the almonds.

I thought about my breakfast as I read and pedaled on the bike. Two eggs scrambled with spinach and a couple pieces of gluten-free cinnamon-raisin bread. You wanna talk about rapidly digested -- most gluten-free products are as starchy as starchy can be. When you take out the wheat gluten (protein) you're often left with a low-fiber, low-protein product. Why am I eating gluten-free raisin bread? Because it's freaking delicious. (It's Rudi's, by the way. Celiacs, have at it.)

While I didn't have to completely forgo the bread, I could have been perfectly happy with one piece.

I read and pedaled some more, waiting for the "magic bullet" paragraph that would tell me exactly what I need to do to improve my weight loss. There really wasn't one but the recommendation is fewer refined grains, concentrated sugars and potato products.

(Cue the whining.)

It's funny -- I had a 100-calorie bag of popcorn this afternoon and it did NOTHING to satiate me. In fact, it made me want another bag of popcorn. Instead, I ate a serving of fatty, fat, fat pistachios and -- BOOM -- I felt satiated.

I'm not sure if I need to completely get rid of starches but they do need to go to the back burner of my go-to snacks.


Yoga Saturday: Element Yoga for Strength & Flexibility, With Ashley Turner

Yoga for strength and flexibility ashley turnerHoly moly, am I inflexible! 

That's usually the first thing that goes through my mind when I fire up any yoga DVD. That's why I chose this workout today. Element Yoga for Strength & Flexibility (Anchor Bay Entertaiment, $14.98) called out to me because of the second workout, which promises to release tension and improve range of motion. It also features Ashley Turner, and she's one of my favorite instructors.

Today I did the flexibility workout (because STIFF!) and this is one that I'll be coming back to again and again. If you're a super bendy yoga pretzel you won't be impressed, but for people made of rebar, like me, it's a great practice and a reminder that there is no perfect yoga pose -- something that Turner reiterates throughout the 30 minutes. I tend to forget that and crane my neck up to see if I'm "doing it right." I finally stopped doing that after I listened to her a time or two.

Perhaps that's because in addition to being a yoga instructor, she's also a psychotherapist!

There are no full-blown sun salutations in this one -- there is a modified one, which I was able to do without one bit of cursing. In fact, I could do pretty much everything in this workout. But that's the point of her explaining that there is no "right" way to do the poses. Every now and then I'd peek up at the screen and see her with her shoulder all the way on the ground after threading the needle, and instead of beating myself up for not being able to do that, I'd just think "Yowza, good for you!"

Maybe one day.

Since I've been adding in yoga and using the Precor stretching thingie at the gym, I haven't had one neck-tension headache and I've been feeling great after my workouts. So, hooray for stretching!

See ya next week for another Yoga Saturday!

Get Fit Friday: What's in my gym bag?

Since I have officially become a gym rat, I thought I'd share my gym bag essentials. I used to run into the gym, workout and leave all sweaty. But I now do humanity a favor and clean up after I'm done.

So, what's in my gym bag?

In a word, a lot. I need a bag to hold my shoes, a change of clothes, towels, shower necessities and workout gear. I'm also a bit of a gym bag hoarder -- always on the lookout for the holy grail of bags. It has to be big enough and sturdy because those gym lockers are small and a lot of squishing goes on.

My latest "holy grail bag" is the Live Well 360 Luxx bag. It's big, good looking and really well made inside and out. That can be a problem for a lot of gym bags -- the companies make the outside sturdy but skimp on the bag's lining, and that's where all the stuffing goes on. It's pricey but I have a feeling it'll last for years and years.


That's the Luxx bag, above.

What goes with me into the gym: I love that Camelbak Groove water bottle. It's super sturdy, holds a decent amount and there's a built-in water filter so I can refill it virtually anywhere (and it's purple!). I'm also not a fan of calloused hands, so I wear gloves. These are by Under Armour and they're not particularly well padded in the palm but they're ventilated and serve the purpose (and they're pink!). I also have my trusty iPod Nano loaded up with Rock My Run mixes and podcasts. My favorite earbuds right now are Sol Republic Relays, which sound great and stay in my ears comfortably. And the piece de resistance -- my pink Gatorade towel. First, it has my initials all over it, it's the perfect size for draping around my neck or on a machine (and it's pink!). 

(I know -- it's like "Rainbow Brite goes to the gym.")

In my gymbag3 master lock speed dialI made a point of photographing my lock because I've had questions about it in the locker room. I bought it years ago at Home Depot and I love that I don't have to stash a key anywhere or memorize a bunch of numbers. It's the Master Lock 1500 iD Speed Dial. Instead of a numerical combination, you set up the lock with a series of directions. It also comes in a bunch of colors, so I can spot my big blue lock in the locker room.

In my gymbag2Before I get into the workout room, I make sure there's not a speck of makeup on my face. I'm not interested in looking fiiiine while working out, and not having mascara running down my sweaty face probably looks better than the alternative. So if there's any makeup to be removed, I keep a pack of towelettes in my bag. These are new ones by Biore and they're thorough yet gentle.

In my gymbag4
After the workout: Shower time! A couple of things that are key for me are a good-looking pair of flip flops and a beach towel. Sure, it makes you feel like you're going to the beach but the flip flops keep your feet from catching athlete's foot or MRSA (!) and the beach towel is big enough to use as a privacy shield when removing your workout clothes. I then roll up the stinky clothing in my Gatorade towel and stuff it in the bag, and if I forget other shoes, the flip flops go with everything. (I snagged those Havaianas for half price at TJ Maxx.)

In my gymbag5
In the shower: Here's where I think I should win some sort of multitasking Nobel Prize, so follow closely. First off, I tried using travel sizes of shampoo and conditioner but they're just too small and I was constantly replacing them so I settled on 8-ounce sizes of each. I do use travel sizes of shower gel because you don't need as much, especially when you're using a disposable facial washcloth (the dry ones, not the premoistened ones), which doubles as an everything washcloth. Here's what you do:

  1. Shampoo your hair, rinse and condition. Leave the conditioner in.
  2. Wash your face with the facial washcloth. With some of that cleanser left on the cloth, add just a little dab of shower gel to the cloth and wash the rest of yourself.
  3. Rinse everything.

I dunno -- I think it's ingenious. You can waste a lot of shower gel by just pouring it into your hand and you don't work up a good lather without some sort of puff or cloth.

I also use travel/sample sizes of mouthwash and I picked up a few of my fave at BlogHer Food last weekend. (Apparently food bloggers are more interested in food samples than mouthwash samples, and Colgate had a lot of extras.) I also have a tube of my new favorite toothpaste -- Crest's Be Adventurous, which is CHOCOLATE MINT. (I know!) Don't worry, it's not like brushing your teeth with chocolate frosting -- it's got a mild chocolate flavor with more of a mint base. But c'mon, chocolate toothpaste? It's also great for evenings when all you want to do is dive into a pint of chocolate ice cream. 

So that's what's in my gym bag -- what are your gym bag essentials?

Do I not trust myself?

Good food thought with a warning

I haven't weighed myself since before Mother's Day, during which I had a lovely brunch with my family at a vegan restaurant.

Also during that time was my nephew's high school graduation celebration and BlogHer Food, which I have dubbed my "healthy snack food vision quest." I am also in the middle of an "extended PMS holding pattern slow jam" -- women of my age will know what that means. (Is it coming? Is it not?)

I feared stepping on the scale like I do stepping on a cockroach. (Eeek! Eeek! Jump off!)

This morning I did it anyway and I was down 2 pounds.

To be honest, I wasn't really surprised. My clothes weren't getting tight. I didn't feel especially bloated. But there was extra food, and snacking and samples and "Don't mind if I do's!"

That's why I put that graphic up there. I like the sentiment but you can definitely overdo it on "good food."

Almonds, avocados, edamame, cherries, almond milk lattes -- all good and all some of my favorites.

And if I'm not careful and conscious with my eating, all capable of stalling weight loss.

So back to the scale: While I didn't track a lot of those samples and snacks, I did track all my meals, and I got in five days of exercise every week. I didn't booze it up, save for a couple of gin and tonics.

Why did I think I'd have a scale disaster? Do I not trust myself?

I guess, from all the years of having a dieting mentality, I still don't.

I'm not sure what I would have felt if the number on the scale had gone up instead of down. I guess I also wouldn't have been surprised.

True, the number on the scale doesn't define ME, but it does give me a good indication of whether what I'm doing is working. 

I kinda feel relieved that I finally got on the scale -- now I can move on and keep the success rolling.

I finally cracked open the book "State of Slim" (Rodale Books, 2013) -- the book's goal is to fix a broken metabolism. I'm barely through the first chapter but I know my metabolism is broken from decades of dieting/not dieting/thinking Im dieting. I like that the book is grounded in years and years of science and studies and testing. It's definitely not a fad diet book. If you want to find out a little more about the book and the science behind it, you can check out my pals Kymberly and Alexandra, who recorded a podcast with Dr. James O. Hill, one of the "State of Slim" authors. (You may even hear a question from me!).

I took a peek at the menu for the first two weeks and it's pretty limited, but that's the point. We're fixing what's broken, and apparently chocolate ice cream doesn't fix a broken metabolism.

 Oh, BTW, I've been working on cleaning up my blog's email feed so if you'd like to subscribe and get blog updates (and that's all, no spam), click on the sign-up box on the right. (It's one of the things I learned at BlogHer Food.)

Tunes for Tuesday: Back to Life, by Soul II Soul

I go to this song all the time when I want to get back to something ... like back to the blog after Typepad gets another all-day denial of service attack (yesterday, yeesh) or back to my routine after sampling every snack food on Earth at BlogHer Food (Friday and Saturday). 

I'm serious about this song -- I literally sing it to myself to psyche myself into the right frame of mind.

Oh! And one other thing -- I made my Go! Go! Gail! emails all pretty so if you'd like to get my post alerts delivered right to your inbox, use the signup form on the right and you'll never miss a post.

Want to eat vs. should eat vs. need to eat

Breakfast lunch and dinner
In addition to getting myself to bed earlier, I've been trying an "everything old is new again" tactic the past couple of days:

Eating three meals a day.

I know! How old school. 

For years and years and years, I've been doing what the gurus have said and eating every 2 to 3 hours.

How's that workin' out for me? Not that great lately.

So to goose my hunger, satiety and fat-burning hormones, I started eating three 500-calorie meals a day. That leaves 100 calories of wiggle room for calorie discrepencies or abject arm-chewing hunger attacks.

I've read about the return to "three squares" in many places:

But Dr. Fuhrman explained it best on a recent episode of "The Dr. Oz Show," oddly enough, illustrated with a golf cart.

Watch this video HERE -- he gets into the science behind leaving more room between "eating occasions" at the 2-minute mark.

The upshot: Your body never gets a chance to burn any fat because it's busy burning the food that you keep sending down the pie hole every couple hours.

Makes sense to me. But of course I could scour the Internet and find just as many articles saying frequent small meals are the key to weight loss. 

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, author of the new book "The Diet Fix," takes a "do what works for you" approach in his article "How often should you eat?" He cites the studies that show three protein-rich meals a day can be more satiating, but notes that he prefers to add in healthy snacks. 

Lemme tell ya, getting to 500 calories is hard when you eat at home! Eating at a restaurant, getting to 500 is pretty darn easy. In fact it's hard to stay below that, even when you order a "healthy" entree.

I'm not shoveling down Pop-Tarts or ice cream bars to get to 500. Instead I'm adding a fruit, yogurt, a healthy baked good or extra protein. Empty calories are a lousy way to fill your day and will only make you crave more of them.

Breakfast on Monday, for example, was two eggs cooked in a half tablespoon of butter, a piece of Rudi's gluten-free raisin bread, a navel orange and coffee with a couple tablespoons of half and half. Total calories: 380. See? I couldn't even make it to 400! And did you notice, no diet foods were harmed in the making of that meal.

Even though I didn't hit 400 calories, that meal at 8 a.m. powered me through an hour at the gym, errand running and a dentist appointment and I didn't eat lunch until 1:30. 

Haven't weighd myself yet to see how the plan is working but I'm noticing that the compulsion to eat between meals is slowly ebbing away.