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8 Thing I Wish I Knew before Starting My Fitness Journey

This is another guest post from our fabulous intern, Nicki. While she is currently a certified personal trainer, she had to start somewhere, too, and she knows what it’s like that first time you step into the gym and contemplate picking up a pair of weights. Here is some of the advice she wishes had been shared with her back then.

I started seriously lifting when I was just a sophomore in high school, which puts me at about 6 years now. When I started, I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I’ve been through many phases in my endeavors: sport-specific training, powerlifting, body-building, swimming, physical therapy, and more.

Now, I am a Certified Personal Trainer and an (almost) graduate with a degree in Exercise Science. Through my education and a lot of trial and error, I have learned a lot, and there’s still plenty more to learn. I want to pass along some information to the beginners out there who are just now starting their fitness journey. Here are a few bits of advice that I wish I had been given when I first started. 

1. No one is looking at or judging you

I know one of the main concerns that most people have when starting to go to the gym is that they are afraid of being judged. As an anxious person, I 100% understand this fear. But take it from a veteran lifter, we all know that everyone starts somewhere. Most of the individuals you encounter in the gym are too focused on their own goals to worry about yours. Take your time, challenge yourself, educate yourself. It gets easier!

2. Not every exercise has to be 3×10 or 4×12 to be effective

I feel like the most common training parameters I hear about are 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Those are fine, don’t get me wrong. Those are the parameters that are typically used to achieve gains in muscle size. If those are your goals, then great! But I often see people who are training for strength using these parameters and seeing little results. So if your goals are more strength oriented, I would recommend switching it up every now and then. The parameters for strength are sets of 2-6 of 6 or fewer reps. Keep in mind, you should be using a weight that challenges you, so you should be using a heavier weight for 6 reps than you do for 12.

3. Start at a light weight while learning proper form

This kind of coincides with number 1: no one cares what weight you are using. It’s much more important to be using proper form than using heavier weights. If you cannot perform the weight with proper form, reduce the weight. Once you get the hang of the form, then definitely challenge yourself. But don’t hurt yourself trying to look like the strongest person in the gym. It’s not worth it. It can be helpful to watch YouTube videos or talk to a trainer if you are unsure about the form. If you are comfortable with it, try filming yourself as you perform the exercise so you can watch it back and see what you need to work on. 

4. You will notice things getting easier before you notice your muscles growing

In the first couple of weeks of training, you will notice that you are moving weights easier, without noticing a huge difference in your body composition. This is because your muscles “learn” to move heavier things faster than they can grow in size. Be patient, it takes several weeks to notice serious changes in muscular hypertrophy.

5. You will most likely see a lot of change right away, and then not so much.

If you are a real beginner to the gym and getting proper nutrition, you are probably suddenly burning a lot more calories than you used to. If one of your goals is weight loss, you will probably experience a lot of success in your first few weeks. Eventually, your body will adapt, and it will be more challenging to continue seeing big results. Continue to challenge yourself by gradually increasing the load and/or repetitions.

6. No amount of donkey kicks or bodyweight squats will get you a bigger butt. I’m sorry.

I know I’m spilling some major tea here on some popular fitness accounts, but the best way to grow your glutes is by resistance training and eating plenty of protein and carbs. So don’t waste your time doing a million of the exercises that are actually made to be warm-ups. Some of the best exercises for growing your glutes are compound movements, such as hip thrusts and split squats. If you perform these at a weight that will safely challenge you and fuel your body properly, you should see some changes.

7. You cannot get bulky by accident

I hear a lot of people ask how they can get in good shape without getting “too bulky”. They see pictures of bodybuilders and are afraid that by following a standard training program, they will look like that too. I’m here to tell you that getting ripped biceps and shoulders takes some serious hard work, is not sustainable for a normal lifestyle, and certainly doesn’t happen by accident. Please, train your upper bodies, it is super important for functional fitness, injury prevention, and posture. 

8. You CANNOT spot reduce fat 

More tea to be spilt here. I don’t care how many fitness influencers try to sell their “arm fat burning” or “stomach toning” exercise programs. Say it with me: you cannot spot reduce fat. Which means, no matter how many curls you do, you cannot train away the adipose tissue in your upper arms. No matter how many crunches you do, you cannot immediately get abs. Only by training under a caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn) can you lose fat. And when you do lose fat, you cannot pick and choose where it goes first. 

Being a newbie in the gym can definitely be intimidating. Just remember that everyone is there to better themselves, and they were all beginners once, too. You may be surprised that most people in the gym are actually very respectful and supportive. 

If you are unsure how to start, talk to a professional. A CPT can help you to shape your workouts to best achieve your goals. A health/nutrition coach can work with you on your dietary habits to best fuel your body for energy and recovery. Take your own experience and learn what works for you, and soon you will be an seasoned gym-goer too!

 

 

20 Self-Care Ideas that Aren’t Face Masks or Manis

Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword recently, evoking images of candles and spa settings. But there is very good reason for self-care to be becoming all the rage – it’s critical for your mental and physical health. It doesn’t have to be all sauna sessions, ayahuasca retreats, and overpriced merchandise from The Goop though. Self-care is much simpler and more practical than that. Self-care means giving yourself the space to recharge, the time to rest, the opportunity to break the monotony with something you truly enjoy. Most importantly, self-care is anything but selfish. Without it, it’s impossible to show up at your best for yourself and for those you care about.

What Self-Care is Not

One thing about self-care is that if it’s something you do because you have to as a responsible adult, then it’s not really self-care. Whenever I have a client say, “well I really like cleaning so that’s my self-care” or “I really enjoy cooking,” I ask them if it’s really enjoyable when they’re doing those things out of obligation even if they don’t feel like it. When you’re exhausted from a long week but you’re still cooking dinner for 3 other people when you’d prefer to order takeout, that’s not really caring for yourself and it sure as hell takes all the pleasure out of it. Self-care is not obligatory activities.

Some Ideas for Self-Care

If you are new to self-care (hello, rundown, busy, stretched-too-thin moms!), it can seem really difficult to come up with a self-care routine, especially if cleaning and cooking don’t cut it. But, as I said, self-care is much simpler than you think. Here are some ideas for self-care activities you can start engaging in right away.

    • Meditation – even just 5 minutes 
    • Read your favorite book
    • Journal
    • Art – whether it’s painting, knitting, drawing, coloring etc. (and, no, you don’t have to be good at it!)
    • Listen to your favorite song – especially helpful when you’re in a time crunch and need that pick-me-up
    • Listen to your favorite podcast – reserve some time away from your work to really enjoy it!
    • Watch your favorite show – I am the queen of horrible TV and it makes me so happy
    • Play an instrument/make music/sing
    • Bake – I see this as different from cooking because it’s rare that you HAVE to bake…unless you’re a baker
    • Go shopping
    • Call your best friend (yes, call, like on the phone)
    • Get some fresh air – go for a walk or sit outside and just enjoy the sunshine and air
    • Go for a drive (unless road rage is your thing)
    • Practice positive affirmations – another one that’s helpful when you’re in a pinch and only have a few moments. Check out these examples to get you started
    • Get your favorite workout in
    • Make time for some physical activity, like hiking, biking, etc. You can also share this with those you care about
    • Take an extra long, hot shower
    • Enjoy a cup of tea
    • Take a cat nap
    • Do a puzzle

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Exercise vs Physical Activity – What you need to know

Well & Simple is proud and excited to be presenting our first blog post from our new intern, Nicki Thurston! Nicki is a student at Endicott College and you’ll be seeing some more content for her here over the semester. 

People often use “exercise” and “physical activity” interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Essentially, exercise is a more structured and organized means of physical activity created around specific goals. However, regardless of that difference, both are important to your physical and mental health and you should try to work both in. 

Physical Activity

Physical activity does double duty, helping you work towards your health goals through calorie expenditure and heart health while also being fun. Physical activity can be the perfect opportunity to enjoy some family time and get your family active. Studies have shown that participating in family physical activity can be beneficial for mental and physical health and family communication. Some ideas you can try with your family include: swimming, recreational sports, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and so many more. (Check out these tips for how to get your family motivated to get healthier)

Finding physical activity that you enjoy is an awesome self-care act as well. It can be a good excuse to take time out of your day for a hobby. Maybe you enjoy gardening, or playing pickup basketball with friends. Regardless, you are doing something that you enjoy, while reaping all the healthful benefits of physical activity – from soaking up some Vitamin D, to getting some fresh air, to improving your cardiovascular health.

Exercise

Compared to physical activity, exercise is going to give you more specific, targeted health effects. 

Let’s take weight-bearing exercises as an example, like lifting, running, and working with resistance bands. These exercises can improve bone density, which is especially important for young women in order to have a healthy skeletal system later in life. Weight bearing activities are also good for building muscle. Having ample muscle mass is  important for lifting and moving things safely in everyday life. Strengthening your muscles can prepare your body for difficult tasks, while also preventing injury.  

Incorporating cardio into your exercise routine can improve your cardiovascular health and help with calorie burn if you are seeking to lose weight. For optimal health impacts, you want to be doing a combination of cardio and weight-bearing/resistance activities.

What is even greater is that the benefits of exercise go beyond the physical. Even if you don’t love to do it, exercise triggers the release of all sorts of “happy” chemicals in your brain, known as neurotransmitters. These are responsible for feelings such as motivation, satisfaction, alertness, and happiness. So you get some physical benefits and a little pick-me-up.

 

So there you have it! Physical activity and exercise both serve really important roles in our lives. Ideally, you are fitting both in (because it’s all about balance), but you are still reaping benefits from either.

 

Looking for some tips on how to fit in more exercise? Check out what to do when you don’t have time to exercise and how to stay motivated to exercise.

 

 

Jillian Michaels is part of the problem

Content Warning: Fat shaming, disordered eating, verbal abuse

Fat shaming takes many different forms and is everywhere – from blatant insults to shaming thinly veiled as concern about someone’s health. No matter its form, fat shaming creates and perpetuates harmful cycles of self-hatred, poor body image, and unhealthy diet and exercise habits. Jillian Michaels has built her career on fat-shaming and profiting off of dangerous, unhealthy habits.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you heard about her comments this week on Lizzo’s weight, which she then backpedaled on to use as false concern about Lizzo’s health, citing that obesity creates higher risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. OK, well since we are so concerned about people’s health, let’s talk about the health problems Jillian’s approach in The Biggest Loser, which has contributed to her ~$14 million net worth (source), creates.

Before we even dig into the physical problems created by excessive calorie restriction and exercise, let’s talk about her brand of “coaching” and “encouragement.”

  • “I don’t care if people die on this floor. You better die looking good.”
  • “I don’t care if one of your legs fall off or if one of your lungs explode.”
  • “The only way you’re coming off this treadmill is if you die on it.”
  • “Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going.”

And let’s just generally mention the screaming and name-calling from the show as well.

Sounds like a coach you’re itching to work with, right?

You may say those things were just stunts for the show to increase viewership, but you’re taking all of this in complete isolation, which is not how it occurs. When you are already struggling with self-esteem, body image, and negative self-talk like the contestants and many in the audience, words like these stay with you, regardless of their intent. They can become part of the self-hatred soundtrack playing in your mind engendering further negative self-talk, obsession, unhealthy habits, and extreme dietary measures not to mention depression and anxiety.

They also create unrealistic, dangerous standards for how you should be working out and eating. This kind of “encouragement” pushes over-workouts and tuning out your body’s internal cues that could be telling you that you’re in danger and need to stop. You begin to think things like “if I’m not in pain or struggling to breathe, then I’m not working out hard enough and it’s not effective,” particularly if you’re someone who is new to physical fitness.

And while we’re on the topic of physical fitness, let’s talk about the actual physical measures she has promoted. The show’s weight loss plan is based on extreme calorie restriction and excessive exercise designed to create a large calorie deficit which, in turn, leads to weight loss. It pays no mind to nutrient balance or food quality, just the calories in: calories out ratio. Our bodies simply are not designed for this.

A 2016 study following 14 contestants found the following after their stint on The Biggest Loser:

  • Extremely low levels of the satiety hormone leptin, leaving them feeling constantly hungry
  • Drastically slowed metabolism
  • And ss many as 6 years after the show, contestants’ leptin levels and metabolisms had still not recovered which led them to regain much of the weight.

The thing is our bodies are incredibly smart and will always tend towards a certain homeostasis. This means that whenever you make changes, your body will make internal changes to counter them to an extent. The decrease in leptin and metabolic rate seen in these contestants is their bodies’ response to extreme weight loss measures.

And these aren’t the only problems with the weight loss tactics espoused by the show. The exercise regimens prescribed to contestants greatly exceed what is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (source) and pose a significant threat to the health and well-being of someone who is not accustomed to strenuous workouts and is carrying a significant amount of excess weight.

As for the calorie restriction, anyone who has ever tried dieting or fasting knows that you might be able to do it for a bit but then you swing back to the other extreme. This is because humans don’t respond well to deprivation psychologically or physiologically. We need a certain amount of fuel and nutrients to keep our bodies running efficiently and that amount increases with several factors including physical activity. If that deficit is too great then there comes a breaking point.

All of this is to say that Jillian Michaels has a history of espousing weight loss tactics that put clients at risk of a number of health threats including eating disorders, heart failure, body image issues, depression, anxiety, and more. Given all of this, doesn’t it seem a bit hypocritical that she is suddenly so concerned about Lizzo’s health?

The fact of the matter is that Jillian Michaels is concerned about aesthetics and her version of a physical ideal. That ideal is so important to her that she is unwilling to examine her own contributions to health issues. She refuses to acknowledge that you can be fat and not have chronic illnesses. You can be fat and be very physically active (have you SEEN Lizzo onstage). You can be fat and happy. She refuses to acknowledge that her brand is not coaching; it’s abuse. And she refuses to acknowledge her contributions to a culture of fat shaming.

At this point, you may be asking, as a nutrition coach, who am I to be calling Jillian Michaels out for promoting weight loss tactics. As a nutrition coach, I help people make dietary changes so that they’re eating healthier foods that nourish their body and often weight loss comes with that either as a motivating factor for clients or as a side effect.

I struggled with a poor body image for years and I still do. I’ve said things to myself about myself that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. It’s a struggle every day. And I’ve struggled with disordered eating and exercise habits. At one point when I was 19-20, I was eating yogurt for breakfast and a plain salad with no dressing for lunch and dinner every day (snacks were rare) and I was exercising for 2-3 hours a day 5-6 days a week. At nearly 5’5″, I was down to 112 lbs and was convinced I still had further to go. I’ve nearly passed out in lecture hall and I’ve curtailed my social life so I wouldn’t have to eat anything I saw as “fattening.” This is what happens when weight loss becomes an obsession, when your self-image is skewed, when unhealthy habits are promoted as acceptable.

While I’ve recovered in terms of eating and exercise habits, I still struggle with my negative self-talk and body image. My goal as a nutrition coach is to help other women silence that negative self-talk and use healthy eating as a way to nourish and celebrate their bodies. I don’t want people to live the way I used to live and I don’t want people to feel about themselves the way I once did.

As long as people like Jillian Michaels are out there parading themselves around as authorities on health and fitness and policing other people’s bodies, people will continue to resort to extremes to silence that voice of criticism from within and without. If you want to be role model and a coach, don’t comment on other people’s bodies, don’t fat shame, don’t speculate about other people’s health, don’t belittle and degrade. If you do, you are part of the problem.

 

 

Managing Holiday Stress

It’s impossible to talk about health or healthy eating without also talking about stress. It’s behind so many of our unhealthy habits and it’s also fueled by them at the same time. And we all know how bad stress is for our health, not just because of those habits, but because of how chronically high cortisol (stress hormone) levels can affect the way our bodies function. Here are a couple facts about stress and our health:

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey:

  • 38% of adults surveyed said they engaged in stress eating in the last month
  • Half of those adults said they engage in stress in weekly or more
  • 27% of adults say they eat to manage stress
  • 30% of adults report skipping meals due to stress

According to the NIH, anywhere from 60-90% of doctors visits are due to stress-related conditions

Stress contributes to chronic illness, inflammation, sleeplessness, weight gain, and performance issues and it can also impact our personal relationships. This time of year especially, stress management is particularly important.

So…what should you do?

Stress Management Routine

My biggest piece of stress management advice is to make time for yourself every single day. Yes. Every. Single. Day.

That’s not the tall order it might seem to be. I promise. Because it doesn’t have to be 3 hours at a spa (but if you can pull that off, go for it). It can be just 5 minutes to do something you enjoy.

Just taking 3 deep breaths has been scientifically shown to decrease stress levels on a physical and emotional level. So imagine what taking a 20 minute hot shower while listening to your favorite music can do!

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count. Even if you find cleaning to be soothing, that’s not doing something for yourself because it’s still something on your too-long to-do list that you would have done anyway. So you can count cooking, cleaning, or dishes as self-care.

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count.

Stress management is as deeply personal as the things that are stressing you out, so you need to find what works for you and those things will change situationally. Some people haven’t ever considered a stress management plan and that’s OK – it’s never too late to create one. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:

  • 5-minute mindfulness meditation
  • knitting
  • take a walk
  • journal it out
  • listen to your favorite song
  • take a long hot shower

Stress management doesn’t have to be complicated or involved – it just has to make you feel better. There’s no reason not to make it a priority – whether it happens just before bed on your lunch break or in between errands. Just make it happen every day.

Set Boundaries

The other biggest piece of advice I have with regards to holiday stress is to set clear, strong, and consistent boundaries. This time of year, the ones we care about can also become one of our biggest sources of stress as we struggle to balance competing interests, demands, and to-dos. If you focus on trying to please everyone, you’re going to end up burned out. Saying “no” and not feeling guilty about it can be your greatest gift this holiday season.

No, I can’t bring a side dish to that party. No, I can’t host your kids at my house today. No, we can’t go to both parties. No, I’m not buying that toy. No, you can’t invite your 3 friends from high school to my dinner party.

Obviously, there are things that you won’t be able to say “no” to. But for those things that you can, that are causing you more stress than they’re worth, that you dread doing – practice using that magic little word.

On Feeling Selfish

Sometimes setting boundaries is going to create a little backlash. Sometimes taking time for yourself will make you feel like you’re being selfish. To that I say this: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

By this I mean that you can’t possibly show up at your best for others if you don’t care for yourself first. In light of that, there is nothing selfish about taking a few minutes or an hour to yourself today and for saying no to something you don’t want to do.

How to handle your leftover Halloween candy

Halloween can be a tricky holiday for those of us trying to maintain healthy eating habits – from the bags of candy purchased in advance for trick or treaters to the leftovers and/or candy our kids come home with. And, when you think about it, Halloween is kind of a kick off to a whole season of sweet temptations leading up to the New Year. But, let’s start with what to do with that leftover Halloween candy, because these are strategies you can use for other occasions as well.

1. Out of sight, out of mind

If we’re being realistic here, it’s not as simple as just dumping the candy in the garbage, especially if it’s your child’s hard-earned haul. Studies have proven that we are more likely to eat treats if they are visible and readily accessible to us, even if we have healthy options in front of us, too. So store those candies away out of your sight so that they’re not constantly staring you in the face and tempting you. Somewhere like the back of a cabinet you rarely open or behind some healthier snacks are good places. This might cut down on how often your children beg for that candy as well….maybe…possibly…

2. Set limits

Having clear boundaries is critical for success in almost any situation. So set those boundaries for yourself and your family. I recommend agreeing to only keep the candy in the house for a week and then disposing of the leftovers by donating them for care packages, etc. I also strongly recommend setting limits for daily candy consumption as well. For the “fun size” candies, I suggest a limit of two per day for that week.

Now, the thing with boundaries is they only work if you stick to them. So it’s important to set those boundaries, make them clear from the outset, and stick to them, especially if your children give you pushback. Think of this as an opportunity to teach your kids about balance.

3. Donate the leftovers

If throwing out the leftovers doesn’t sit well with you (and I totally get that), find a way to donate that candy. In many communities, there are collections for military care packages, etc. Or maybe your college alumni association puts together final exam care packages for current students and they could use the candy. Lots of options out there beyond tossing it in the bin. An added bonus to donating leftover candy after a week is it’s a great chance to teach your kids about sharing and charity. Here is a listing of North Shore donation spots for your candy this year. 

4. Don’t beat yourself up

Most importantly, if you do overindulge, don’t beat yourself up about it. Getting down on yourself is a recipe for a downward spiral and kicking your own butt at the gym isn’t going to undo it – that’s just not how the human body works. The best thing you can do for yourself in situations like that is to own that you didn’t do what you had hoped you would and resolve to do better going forward. This is important not just for yourself but for your kids who, whether you know it or not, watch your every move and hear your every word. This is a chance to teach them how to love themselves and have a healthy relationship with food. Here are some more tips on what to do after you overindulge.

Bonus Advice: How to Talk about Food Choices with Your Kids

While we’re on the topic of setting an example for our kids, watching the language that you use around food is also really important. Dubbing some foods “bad” or saying they’ll “make you fat” can really hurt your child’s relationship with food going forward and can create feelings of shame or guilt around eating. At the same time, it is important to convey that some foods are healthier choices than others. So when you’re talking to children about why you’re giving away the leftover candy or limiting how much you eat, I suggest using language along the lines of:

This isn’t everyday food so we are only going to have a little and then share with some other people. Foods like fruits and vegetables help keep us from getting sick and help us do better in school, but candy doesn’t do any of those things for us so we don’t need to eat a lot of it. Instead we have a little and we focus on eating more of the foods that help us grow bigger and smarter.

Notice that the above example does not say that candy is bad for you or candy will make you sick, etc. It just says that we don’t need it and that other foods do more for us. So we can have a little but should focus on the things that help us the most.

Beat the Bloat

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced that awful feeling after a day when we’ve overindulged: your belly is distended and feels like it’s been pumped overfull with air, your clothes feel too tight, it’s uncomfortable to move around, and all you want to do is cover up with some baggy sweats. It’s a horrible feeling and, when it happens, it can’t be over soon enough. The good news is that there are ways to expedite that process.

1. Hydrate

Drink plenty of water. That will help your body flush everything out.

2. Get moving

Walking, yoga, or other gentle exercise can help get things moving for you, especially if you are experiencing constipation or gas.

3. Get back on the healthy eating wagon as soon as you can

When we feel awful, we tend to want to curl up and comfort ourselves however we can and sometimes that means continuing those same eating habits that got us where we are. Put an end to the cycle by avoiding simple carbohydrates and sugar as well as excess sodium. This means no soda, juice, or other carbonated or sugary beverages, avoid alcohol, avoid sweets and salty snacks, and try not to add much salt to your food. This will help cut down on gas and water retention.

4. Have a cup of tea

Peppermint and chamomile tea both may help alleviate symptoms of gas and bloat. Enjoy a cup or two of these to help you get more comfortable.

5. Avoid healthy foods that can cause bloat

If you’re already feeling bloated, you may want to avoid certain healthy foods that may worsen your situation…at least until it’s cleared up. These include cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and brussels sprouts as well as dairy and beans.

6. Avoid sugar-free foods

In the wake of the backlash against artificial chemical sweeteners, many sugar-free foods now contain sugar alcohols instead. These ingredients, while not linked to the same health concerns as chemical sweeteners or sugar, have been known to cause gastric upset for many. Skipping out of these ingredients will help you avoid uncomfortable gas and bloating.

 

What to do if you are dealing with chronic bloat

1. Journal it

Begin to keep track of the foods you’re eating and how you’re feeling before and after. This can help you determine if you’re sensitive to certain foods so you can avoid them later.

2. Work with a nutrition professional for an elimination diet

A nutrition professional can help you remove common problem foods from your diet to test your reactions to them.

3. Work with your physician to diagnose any underlying medical causes

Chronic bloating can be caused by a number of conditions, including IBS, Crohn’s, and Celiac. Only your physician can diagnose these conditions so, if bloating and gas are commonplace issues for you, I suggest speaking to your physician about it.

 

How to Support Healthy Habits for Your Children

As a parent seeking to support your child’s health, you have quite a lot to work against: clever advertising of sugary foods, video games that all their friends are playing, and handheld devices that make it all too easy to sit and watch a show any time any where, just to name a few. Fortunately, there are a few simple, concrete things you can do starting right now to help support your child’s health even in the face of these obstacles.

1. Make a pick plate

Each day set out a plate of cut veggies, fruit, and nuts and leave it out in an accessible place so that your kids can grab from it as they come and go. You could also put some dips out to entice them further, like guacamole, hummus, salsa, or peanut butter. Having those healthy foods visible and accessible makes it more likely that they will eat them. Ideally, they will fill up with these and not even ask for the less-than-healthy snacks later. But, even if they don’t, at least they are eating more fruits and veggies than they were before. Further, the more they eat these healthy foods, the more of a taste they will develop for them.

2. Get the whole family active

Find some fun active activities your whole family can do together, like hiking or biking. For indoor active time, try heading to your local trampoline park together or pick up the game Hyperdash to play inside and get everyone moving (according to some reviews, parents enjoy it for their solo workouts without their kids as well!).

3. Talk about food choices in the positive

We now know the potential harm that using the wrong language and pressure around food choices can cause to children as they grow older, particularly in a world where we are constantly bombarded by images of what we ideally should look like. Instead of focusing on foods that your child shouldn’t or can’t have, focus on what they can have. Use the word “we” as much as possible when describing eating habits to create a sense of unity around those habits and to take the focus and pressure off your child and their eating habits. For example, “we eat grilled chicken because it makes us stronger” or “we eat vegetables at every meal because they help us not get sick.” This type of language used regularly normalizes healthy eating even when TV commercials are screaming about snacks loaded with sugar and artificial dyes.

4. Get the kids involved in food prep

Young children tend to be much more enthusiastic about things they’ve played a role in, especially if they see that task as being “grown-up” or important. Try to get your kids involved in the groceries and meal prep as soon as you’re able to. In the grocery store, let them make decisions by giving them choices, like blue potatoes, orange potatoes, or white potatoes; yellow string beans or green string beans; long squash or round squash – you get the picture. This gives children a sense of control over decisions and they’re more likely to eat something they chose. When it comes to dinner prep, give them age-appropriate tasks to do to help you cook, like rinsing spinach, breaking the tops off the green beans, or helping you measure out ingredients with measuring cups and spoons. You could even get your children their own kid-friendly cookware sets like these.  When kids play a role in cooking (something very “adult”), they are really proud of that and are more likely to eat the food they prepare. This also provides you with valuable bonding time and helps kids get more familiar with different foods.

5. Don’t give up

According to current data, it takes a child  being exposed to a new food about 12 times before they are willing to even try it. Be patient and just keep re-exposing them to that food. Continue to put healthy snacks into their lunches, but don’t be surprised or upset when those snacks come home at the end of the day. Keep putting them back in there.

6. Find opportunities to work in more vegetables

I’m not necessarily saying to be sneaky and hide veggies in your kids’ food. What I’m saying is that there are foods out there that are great opportunities for enriching them with even more vegetables and it won’t be a big deal in terms of flavor or texture. For example, pasta sauce can be loaded with different veggies, like peppers, mushrooms, even carrots and broccoli, and you can always toss it in a blender if it’s too chunky with those veggies added. Another great option are sweet potato brownies. You cut down on the sugar and flour and use sweet potato instead – it creates a brownie that is always fudgy in texture and your child gets to eat lots of fiber and phytonutrients. Here is my favorite sweet potato brownie recipe.

7. Eliminate sugary beverages

Perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your child’s health is to eliminate soda, juice, and other sugary beverages from their diet. Yes, even juice. When you juice a fruit (or a vegetable) you are destroying the fiber in it and that leaves little to nothing to buffer against the sugars in it. So essentially you end up with a glass of sugar with some nutrients in it. The American Heart Association recommends that children ages 2-18 consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day but the average American child consumes over 75 grams of added sugar a day and soda and fruits drinks are 2 of the biggest contributors to that. Without going into scare tactics, we know that excess sugar consumption as a child leads to chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension just to name a few. Instead of sugary drinks, try giving your child water with fresh or frozen fruit in it or seltzer instead of soda. And, if you are going to allow them to have soda or juice, make sure that it is on a very rare occasion.

How to Motivate Your Family to Be Healthier

It’s a tale as old as time. One parent wants to start eating healthier, maybe lose some weight, get more active, etc. but they’re thrown off track time and time again because the rest of the family isn’t on board. Maybe the problem is that you have to keep a package of certain cookies in the house for your partner. Maybe it’s that you’re tired of preparing 2 dinners, one for you and one for everyone else. Maybe you’re missing your after-dinner walks because everyone would rather watch TV and you don’t want to miss out on valuable family time. Whatever the big issues are, it can make it very challenging to work on your healthy habits when the rest of the household is not working on theirs. So what can you do?

Start Small

You can’t expect everyone to jump right on whatever plan you have right off the bat. Instead, start small. Maybe find an outdoors activity your whole family enjoys doing together, like bike-riding or hiking. Maybe you can get your kids to choose a healthy recipe and cook it with you. Maybe you can swap out those favorite store-bought brownie bites for some homemade ones with less sugar and some sweet potato in them. The easiest way to create big change is to start with little ones.

Use that Team Mentality

It may sound silly but language is super important. It can help unify your family around your goals. Practice using “we” and “our.” For example, “these are the foods we eat,” “we like to get moving outside,” “we are taking good care of ourselves.” This is especially important when it comes to your kids.

Use Relatable Justifications

Telling a child that they should eat broccoli because it’s good for them will get you nowhere fast. You know this. “Good for you” means nothing to a child. The same goes for “healthy.” But, if you can relate the benefits of that health food to something your child wants or enjoys, then you may be in luck. For example, instead of telling your child to eat the chicken because they need the protein, explain to them that eating chicken will help them get stronger and better at biking. Or instead of telling them that their vegetables are good for them, tell them eating vegetables will make them run even faster at their soccer game. Or their avocado will make them do well on their test tomorrow because it makes their brain grow.  These are relatable things that makes sense in a child’s mind.

Clearly Communicate Why these Changes are Important to You

Your partner needs to know how important these changes are to you so that they can support you. Really get down to your big WHY about these changes and share that with your partner. Knowing how important getting healthier is to you makes it more likely that they will be more supportive of your efforts.

Keep It Collaborative

Unilaterally taking certain foods away or trying to secretly swap them out for healthier ones can be a recipe for disaster and meltdowns. Try allowing your family to pick a food they are willing to try a healthier option for and let them choose a substitution from a small selection. Remember to only incorporate one food swap at a time so that you’re not overwhelming them with overhaul and creating pushback and resentment.

Make Healthy Foods More Accessible than Unhealthy Ones

You may find that if you leave a plate of cut veggies and fruits out and ready, your family will be more likely to grab those as they are right out in front of them than to hunt around for or demand junk food snacks. Once they start eating healthier foods, they will begin to become part of the routine.

Model the Behavior You Want to See

Lead by example. If your family perceives that you are not taking these changes seriously, then they won’t either.

Have you ever struggled to get your family on board with healthier habits? What techniques worked for you? Share them in the comments below!

 

What to do when you don’t have time to workout

Even the most dedicated gym junkies can have days where they are just flat out and can’t make it to the gym. That’s OK! No one is ever going to get their routine perfect 100% of the time. Period. However, even on those days where you’re stuck in the car or in back-to-back meetings, there is a lot to be said for getting a little movement in. So what can you do on those days where your calendar simply doesn’t allow for your 3 mile run?

1. Stretch it out

If you’re spending a lot of time behind the wheel or at your desk, some stretching will go a long way to help you feel better, keep your muscles limber, and get you a little more energized. Try opening up your chest to counter hunching by clasping your hands behind your back and pressing them away from you. Stretch out those hamstrings by extending your legs and reaching for your toes (you’ll get a little lower back release as well!). Or try a seated twist to give your spine some lovin’. Here are a few more examples of exercises you can do at your desk. 

2. Find the opportunities for movement that you can

Every little bit helps, so find those opportunities to get your blood flowing when you can, even if it’s just little things. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Try parking a little further than usual to get a little bit of a walk in. Or set a reminder to get up and take a quick spin around your office every hour or so. This will give you a few extra moments to recharge and re-energize.

3. Work your legs

If you have a little bit of time for a workout but aren’t sure what to do, working your legs will help you get maximum burn for what little time you have. Your legs contain one of the biggest muscle groups in your body and bigger muscles mean more calories burned because it takes more to move them. Working some squats, lunges, and resistance band exercises will get those legs moving and those calories burning.

Getting even a little bit of movement in will help you de-stress, feel better, and have better energy. It will also help counteract some of what sitting all day can do to our bodies. So move when you can and don’t stress about your missed workout.

Don’t Do These Things

Don’t – Try to compensate by eating too little

Skipping a meal or two to compensate for a missed workout is not going to achieve any good. If anything, it will leave you cranky, tired, and less able to recover from your regular workouts. Yes, you do not need to consume as many calories on days when you’re not working out. So be mindful and pay attention to your hunger cues instead of trying to overcompensate. Eat healthful foods when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re satisfied. I can promise you that the impact of one skipped workout is not as drastic as you may worry it is.

Don’t – Try to make up for it with an excessive workout the next day

This just isn’t how our bodies work. You can’t make up for a missed workout by pushing yourself too hard the next day. All that’s likely to get you is injured or too sore to workout the next time. Just pick back up where you left off.

Don’t – Beat yourself up about it

Like I said before, no one will ever get their routine perfect 100% of the time. We are human and life happens. Be gentle with yourself and don’t let this missed workout derail your efforts. Just assure yourself that you’re getting a break today and you will get back into your routine tomorrow. The wonderful thing is, you can always start back on your routine.