Friday, July 30, 2010

Choose Your Battles Wisely

Hello my name is Paige and I drink Diet Coke.

Hi Paige.

There. I said it.

And just to clarify, I don’t have gallons of the stuff sitting in my fridge—I don’t even keep it in the house. Whenever I get a hankering for those sweet, crisp bubbles I have to want it badly enough to go find it and buy it. Which I do two or three times per week.

But still. Diet Coke is crap. There isn’t a single ingredient in there that can be traced back to the earth—the source from which I try to get most of my nutrition. Really, it has no redeeming qualities besides its sweet taste and little jolt of caffeine, which happen to be enough to keep me coming back for more.

The thing is, about six months ago, I stopped beating myself up over my affinity for Diet Coke. The reason I cut myself some slack comes from several articles that I have written on the subject of willpower. The current research points to the fact that willpower is a limited resource. Like a bank account that’s full at the beginning of the day, the resource dwindles as you use it over and over again. And really, the only way to replenish your account is through sleep.

What’s more, you may not realize it, but you exercise willpower countless times throughout the day. One source I spoke to for an article even said that resisting the urge to check Facebook every five minutes requires an enormous amount of willpower. (You totally want to check it now don’t you? Me too.)

So it occurred to me that when it comes to willpower, I’ve got to choose my battles wisely. Do I want to avoid temptation at every turn or do I want to give myself permission to enjoy certain things guilt-free so that I have the strength to order the veggie wrap instead of the burger at dinner?

And it’s not just about food (for once). Allowing yourself a temptation or two means that you may have the willpower to keep yourself from cutting someone off while driving, for instance, or give you the resolve to not shop online today.

The funny thing is that since making this decision I don’t drink Diet Coke any more or any less than before. Except now, when I want it, I get it, I fill a glass with ice, pour it over the ice, and sip. And I enjoy the drink much more now than I did before because there aren’t any negative feelings associated with the behavior. Just pleasure.

I truly believe that if you’re going to indulge in something—whatever it is—you should let yourself enjoy it fully. Otherwise, what's the point?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kale, Kale The Gang's All Here

My Mom thinks it's hysterical that I posted a recipe here (Monday Night Chicken) and with good reason. It has taken me years to warm up to cooking (no pun intended...okay maybe a little.) I'm alive, so obviously I've been able to feed myself. And I am healthy and don't weigh as much as my Chevy Malibu, so I've fed myself plenty of healthy fare thanks to lots of salads and the George Foreman grill. (If you ever need a salad recipe, I'm your girl.)

But lately, I adore cooking. It's like someone flipped a switch and I totally enjoy the process involved in turning wholesome ingredients into meals. So let's just say that George doesn't get out much anymore, and that is OK by me.

What's more, I never intended for food to occupy so much space on this blog, but I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised. Eating is such a significant part of living a balanced life. Every day we have at least three opportunities (or more like five or six) to make choices that will keep us feeling healthy and balanced. In fact, I once came across a stat that said we make approximately 200 food decisions every day. Although we're on autopilot most of the time, there really is so much that goes into deciding when to eat, what to eat, what not to eat, how to eat, where to eat, and more.

Well, I've got something that will answer the "what" part of eating. Allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite foods: Kale. This stuff is seriously so good and so good for you. It's loaded with iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and so much more. It sort of falls under the same category as Brussels sprouts. By this, I mean that you might think you don't like kale, but you probably haven't had it prepared the right way. (Omg, roasted Brussels sprouts are to die for! A little EVOO, some Kosher salt, a dash of pepper, pop those babies in the oven and they come out crispy and YUM!)

Okay. Deep breaths. Let's get back to kale.

The truth is that kale is in season mid winter through early spring. I try to eat foods when they're in season as much as possible because it's better for the environment and that's when they're also most nutrient dense. But the kale at Whole Foods looked so incredible yesterday that I just couldn't resist when I heard its green leafy goodness calling my name.

If you've never cooked it (or have and hated it) here is my no-fail recipe (again, courtesy of my sister who may need to tweak the recipe--although it worked perfectly for me last night--when she returns for bar-exam hell.)

One note: When my mom used to e-mail me recipes, she'd include steps like, "take out a cutting board and knife," or, "peel the cucumber with a vegetable peeler," and, "put the oil in the skillet before turning on the heat." So please forgive me if some of these steps are a little obvious. I love to cook, but I can still be a little clueless in the kitchen. On that note...

Sauteed Kale

Meet kale. There are lots of varieties. My favorite, pictured here, is curly because it has such great texture and I am all about texture.

Rinse it in the sink and drain it in a collander. It's okay if there's a little water left, but be sure to remove any dirt/sand.

Using a knife, remove the stems that run all the way through the leaves. (They're too tough to eat.) Cut the leaves into smaller pieces.

Chop 1/2 an onion and sautee in a little EVOO until onion becomes translucent.

Add kale to the pan with the onions. Pour some organic low-sodium chicken broth (maybe 1/4 cup) into the pan to give the kale some moisture and flavor to soak up. It should not be swimming. Sprinkle with Kosher salt. Place lid on pan and allow the kale to cook until it becomes a bright green color - about 5 to 7 minutes.

Dinner is served: Salmon (with Monday Night spices) roasted with yellow peppers and tomatoes in the oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes served alongside delicious, nutritious kale.

How's that, Mom?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's Cool To Be Kind

The dream machine ready to make my morning brew

I once read a story about a woman who took herself on a date. She realized that she could never love anyone, really, until she learned how to cultivate those feelings toward herself. So she bought herself a new dress, took herself to a fancy restaurant, bought herself a glass of wine, and enjoyed her own company as she dined on a multi-course meal.

Although I don’t feel the urge to make a reservation for one any time soon, this story has been on my mind a lot this weekend. I’ve been thinking a lot about how well we treat other people—our friends, our colleagues, our family members, our pets, our neighbors, and even strangers. We treat them with grace and kindness. But are we always so nice to ourselves?

This weekend, I set out to learn what it would feel like to come from a place of kindness.

It all started with a massage on Saturday morning. Do I know how to kick off a weekend of kindness or what? And let me tell you, it was glorious. Well, actually, the massage was incredibly painful as Michael the Masseuse (sent directly from god) pressed his 200 pounds into the crater-sized knots in my back, untangling them one at a time. But despite a little soreness afterward, my body had not felt this rejuvenated and free in a long time. And it occurred to me: Why do I wait until I have so much stiffness and pain to get a massage? Fact is, gift certificates for massages are my favorite gifts to give (you can never go wrong), but I give myself this pleasure once, maybe twice, per year and only when I feel that I desperately need them and would pay any price.

Well, not anymore. I signed up for monthly massages right there on the spot. With Michael The Masseuse of course. I’d been debating doing monthly massages since learning about this deal a few weeks ago, but I held out not because of the cost (it’s totally reasonable), but because I thought it was a frivolous thing to do. How ridiculous is that? I cringe at the thought that only a few days ago I considered kindness frivolous. Now, when I go for my monthly massages it will be more about maintaining the health of my back than Michael The Masseuse chasing boulder-sized knots up and down my spine until they are pebble-sized versions of themselves. Next time, it may actually feel good.

And, since I have a tendency to store my stress in my back, neck, and shoulders (who doesn't?) Michael The Masseuse recommended I get a heating pad and use it a few times per week to soothe those muscles. What a great idea for another kind thing I could do for myself. So after the massage I drove directly to Target. I can safely say from experience that if you ever want to kill a fabulous buzz, go to Target directly after getting a massage on a Saturday morning. Yeah, not the best idea ever. Another way to kill a buzz? Head to Costco after yoga. I've made that mistake, too. In any case, I was feeling pretty fantastic and didn't let the crowd totally chip away at my blissed-out brain. The pharmacy guy even let me check out there instead of waiting in one of the 20-person deep checkout lines. Major win. (Come to think of it, maybe he saw the imprint of the massage table donut on my face and took pity.) In the end, I got myself the heating pad and will use it to help maintain my back’s current knot-free status.

Carrying on the tradition of kindness for the day, I also bought myself a gift. I know that we buy ourselves stuff all the time, but when you buy something that’s completely unnecessary, it feels a lot better if you reframe it as a gift for yourself, which is exactly what I did.

Saturday afternoon, as I poured out the remaining coffee from the coffee pot and tossed the used filter into the garbage, I decided that I needed one of those cool machines that makes one cup of coffee at a time so I wouldn’t have so much waste. The fact that I thought this while holding my eight-week old coffee pot is pretty ridiculous. And, I’m not usually an impulsive person when it comes to purchases. But there I was at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon committed to the fact that I needed a high-tech, single-cup coffee maker. I searched online, identified the brand and model that I was going to get, made a few phone calls, and located the item at Bed, Bath & Beyond. I then gave myself the 2.5-mile walk to talk myself out of it, which didn’t happen. The only moment I questioned the purchase was during the trek home when I realized that this thing was way heavier than I imagined it would be.

Luckily, it was a breeze to set up and makes a delicious cup of coffee in one minute flat. By the way, I have zero guilt when it comes to my two-cup-per-morning coffee habit. It’s rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, which may help combat everything from diabetes and heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. So drink up and enjoy, which I will now be able to do one cup at a time. (Oh, and if you've ever considered getting one of these things, the coffee comes out super hot, which I love.)

I have no clue whether this thing makes sense economically or even environmentally. I hope it does, but that wasn’t the point. I know that it makes me happy and I am already looking forward to using it in the a.m. Also cool: It makes hot tea, which I’ll really look forward to during the winter. It’s the little things, right?

When I think about it, I actually practiced kindness toward myself throughout the week even if I didn’t phrase it that way at the time. For some reason, I was not feeling my best. (I think it may have had to do with sugar withdrawal resulting from cutting out the nasty granola, but I am back in action and feeling divine.) In any case, I tried to take it easy during my yoga classes, which is not an easy thing for me to do. But I remembered one of my teachers saying once that taking Child’s pose instead of doing a vinyasa, when your body wants it, is actually a very advanced thing to do because it means that you are listening to your body. Huh. Well, if that’s the case then I was a total rock star this week. I probably took Child’s pose a little more often than I needed, but I wanted to see if I could be okay with it…and I totally was! I’ll admit, at first it was a little daunting , but it felt really great to give my body a break while still doing it the favor of showing up to yoga at all.

I suppose my point here is that we don’t always have to consciously take steps toward being nice to ourselves, we may already be doing it. Still, there’s something really fulfilling about recognizing the moments when we do it--giving ourselves a mental pat on the back for giving ourselves a mental pat on the back.

And other times, actively choosing kindness—whether in the form of Michael The Masseuse, a heating pad, or a totally unnecessary coffee maker—helps you remember that you deserve it as much as anyone.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Monday Night Chicken

(This is Monday Night Tilapia. More on that in a moment.)

I think we can all agree that Mondays suck. But I’ve got something that will make your Mondays a little less dreadful: Monday Night Chicken. It is soooooooo good that you might even start looking forward to Mondays. Stranger things could happen! This is one of the tastiest and most versatile recipes I have ever encountered.

But first, I have to give credit where credit is due and thank my sister and her husband for coming up with this winner. She doesn’t know it yet, but when she’s done studying for and taking the bar exam (good luck!!!) she’s going to be guest blogging here as the resident chef. When it comes to cooking, she totally has the balanced thing down. Almost every evening, she sends me blurry photos from her BlackBerry of what she and her husband whipped up for dinner and I practically drool on my computer keyboard while squinting at the images. (We’ll have to work on that.)

In fact, living a balanced life is something that my sister strives for, too. In many ways, I think a lot of it comes very naturally to her, but most importantly she’s not afraid to do a little trial and error to find her happy medium.

But let’s get back to Monday Night Chicken because it is a revelation and I don’t want to withhold it from you any longer. The other night I whisked off an e-mail to my sister asking her how Monday Night Chicken came about in the first place. The details are fuzzy, but the need for something quick and delicious at the start of the week began when her husband (or fiancé at the time) was working really long days and she got home late from law school on Mondays. Monday Night Football may or may not have had something to do with it. The actual recipe came about in three ways, my sister explained in her response:

1. The technique for cooking it came from spending a few summers in high school waiting tables and I picked up some techniques from chefs. Namely: Don’t underestimate the power of salt and pepper, the combo of olive oil and butter, and starting on the stove and finishing in the oven.

2. The recipe works because of the fact that everyone who makes it gets awesome results. Consistency is a keystone of a good recipe

3. People who have recently learned to cook have used this to great success, so it's perfect for cooks of all ability levels.

And now, without further ado, I give you the recipe for Monday Night Chicken:


Bone-in, skin-on chicken breast (about one per person)



Garlic powder


Extra Virgin Olive Oil



Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season the skin side of the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Remember we’re going for flavor here, so don’t be shy with the seasonings.

In an oven-safe frying pan, heat 1 to 2 Tbsp of olive oil and a pat of butter on the stove until the butter turns brown. (A little butter won’t kill you – it’s all about balance here.)

Place the chicken skin side down in the pan. Season the other side with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Let cook with the skin side down for 5 to 6 minutes until the skin turns a nice dark brown color. Flip it over and cook the other side for another 5 or 6 minutes.

Place the pan in the oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

That’s it! Thirty minutes total and you’ve got the easiest and most delicious chicken dish your kitchen has ever seen. How do you like that, Rachael Ray? A few weeks ago I made Monday Night Chicken for some friends and I served it with corn on the cob and broccoli slaw made with a vinaigrette dressing. In the winter, this recipe is totally comforting when served with a baked potato or mashed potatoes and sautéed kale.

But why stop with chicken? In fact, just this week I made Monday Night Tilapia (see photo above). I skipped the whole oven thing and made a filet that I seasoned with those same seasonings and then cooked in a little bit of EVOO in a pan on the stove. (What you can’t see in the photo is the salad that I made and ate first – I try to always have a salad before my meal because a) it’s good for me and b) it keeps me from snacking on other things—yeah you, Stacy’s Multigrain Pita Chips—while cooking.)

I also made Monday Night Shrimp this week. (Hey, when something works, it just works. Who am I to question it?) I seasoned some raw, peeled, deveined shrimp with those same seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika – go buy them right now!) and sautéed them with some fresh asparagus and served it over one serving of whole-wheat couscous. The verdict? Delish!

My sister informs me that you can also use this recipe on pork chops, salmon, and I imagine boneless skinless chicken breasts, too. Yesterday she even sent me a recipe for this unbelievable chopped veggie salad with chickpeas, hardboiled egg, wax beans, peppers, avocado and who the heck knows what else (I told you she’s got the food thing down) and those Monday Night seasonings were totally in the salad dressing! You can’t go wrong with them.

So there it is. Monday Night Chicken. And by the way, it tastes great any day of the week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Walk This Way

I just got home from a lovely four-mile walk with Remy, my 3-year-old Goldendoodle. And I realized something during our trek: The other day I was talking about the importance of finding a physical activity that you love to do and then I blathered on and on about my passion for yoga. But I completely forgot to mention the other thing that I do daily that keeps me feeling happy and healthy: Walking. It is such a seamless part of my life that, at the time, it completely escaped my mind! But I walk—a lot. In total, I think I hoofed about six miles yesterday and am well on my way to doing the same today.

Walking is such an easy thing to do and research shows that it may also be one of the best things you can do (entire books have been penned on the benefits of putting one foot in front of the other). Having two dogs, walking is also something I have to do in order to keep the carpets clean, but with the exception of when it’s raining or below zero degrees outside (and sometimes even then) I am usually glad to do it.

Today, I started thinking about how my walking habits have changed over the past few years. Walking became a regular part of my life when I got Remy while living in Utah three years ago. When he was an energetic puppy (although not much has changed) I probably circled the block in my neighborhood about a dozen times per day. As he got a little older, we started hiking regularly. All I had to do was walk outside and before I knew it we were climbing some steep slope, following a trail, stepping over fallen trees, and dodging moose and mountain bikers.

When I moved to Vermont, my mom and I walked a three-mile route down Marble Island Road (as picturesque as it sounds) almost every day for the year and a half that I lived there. Having someone to walk with made an enormous difference. It became more than a way to move my body and a chance for my dogs to expend some energy. It was an opportunity for my mom and I to connect. Not only that, but even though I already loved walking, it made me even more likely to do it; I never wanted to miss out on the opportunity to hang out with my mom.

Before moving to Chicago a few months ago, I was worried that I wouldn’t walk as much because I’d be living in a city where I couldn’t step outside and have immediate access to miles and miles of hiking trails. Boy was I wrong! I walk more now than I ever have before.

Since living here, walking has taken on another purpose altogether. My feet have become my vehicle. In other words I can accomplish things on foot—going to the grocery store, running errands, and more—that I used to have to get in my car to do. (City dwellers are probably rolling their eyes and thinking no sh*t, Paige!) But this is totally new to me and I absolutely love it. This past weekend I had to get something from Bed, Bath & Beyond, which is about 2.5 miles away from me. I laced up my sneakers, walked down Broadway, purchased two cooling racks, and before I knew it I had walked 5 miles. That, in addition to the one-mile loop I did with my dogs three times that day for their morning, afternoon, and evening walks. Eight miles? No sweat! (Actually it was about 90 degrees outside so there was plenty of sweat.)

When I first got the idea to write this blog during one of my walks, my mom reminded me that walking is also my meditation. You’d think that with all of the yoga I do I’d be one of the most blissed out people on the planet. The thing is, yoga remains a deeply physical practice for me. Sure, I ride the post-savasana yoga buzz for several hours after class, but I don’t think I’ve quite grasped the spiritual benefits that yoga has to offer. I am still intensely focused on finding proper alignment within the poses and figuring out how to accomplish some of the more challenging ones. The most yogic thing that I have gained from yoga is probably the understanding that the emotional and spiritual benefits will take root when I am ready for them.

But walking is when I really clear my mind. Sometimes I find that I have gone several minutes without being distracted by a single thought.

And yet other times, I do my best thinking while walking. When I was working on a book project last year, I’d write entire chapters in my head while doing the Marble Island Loop (and somehow miraculously remembered them when I got back to my computer.) And, whenever I get stuck while writing articles for magazines—especially when it comes to thinking up clever leads—I head out for a walk and usually come home with exactly what I need.

On second thought, no matter what got me outside in the first place, I always come home with exactly what I need.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why I Skip The Gym

I was a devout gym goer for many years. Oh wait. That’s a lie. I had a gym membership for many years. There we go. And, well, you know how it goes: I’d get on a kick and go four or five days per week for several weeks and then I’d stop. A few months later I’d reconnect with the elliptical and consistently go for a few weeks. And then I’d stop. I went through this cycle for the better part of a decade until, eventually, I realized something: I don’t like the gym!

My gym disdain may stem from having grown up as a dancer because I don’t enjoy repeating one consistent movement with my body for 60 minutes. I need to move in more directions and in different dimensions. I need to have intention behind my movements (beyond making the numbers on the display climb higher and higher). I also felt that, even with fitness classes, I couldn’t move beyond the silent competition that was happening. Whether it was with myself or with the other women in the room, all I know is that at the end of a workout I felt neither physically nor mentally better than I did when I entered the gym.

Now, let me take a moment here to say that I am envious of folks who enjoy their daily sweat sessions and know that it is completely possible. Let me also state that I think gyms have one enormous redeeming quality that I miss dearly, which is the herbaly/minty/eucalyptusy/chloriney/rubbery smell. I always take a deep inhale whenever I pass one. My nasal passages notwithstanding, the gym is just not for me. And you know what? That is OK. That is more than OK.

I have come to believe in finding the physical activity (or activities) that you truly enjoy. You know that you’ve found it when you feel that you have to do it, not that you should do it (a wise person once told me that you should never should on yourself). Doing your favorite activity makes you feel strong, healthy, and connected to who you are. Simply put, it makes you feel balanced. It may even become part of your identity. Mine certainly has.

And you know those national guidelines that recommend 30 to 60 minutes of cardio most days of the week? I say screw them. Because when it comes to exercise, here is the bottom line: You’ve got to find an activity that you love to do—regardless of whether it satisfies some recommendation or not—otherwise you’re not going to do it. What's more, when you find that activity that you love to do, it won't feel like exercise. It'll feel like fun.

My most favorite physical activity is yoga (surprise!) I actually happened upon yoga in a pretty interesting way. Shortly after graduating college, I had the opportunity to work at a brand-new magazine called YogaLife. I had never even stepped on a sticky mat before. I started with a few yoga classes at the YogaLife office’s adorable little studio with a view of the New York City skyline. Was it love at first sight? Eh, not really. But I knew one thing: I always felt better at the end of a yoga class than I did at the beginning—the hallmark of something good. And most of all, I liked the idea of yoga even if I felt a little silly and shaky in the poses.

So when I moved to Park City, Utah a few months later and needed some friends, I decided to give yoga another shot. And that’s when it truly felt like I was coming home. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the studio there is one of the most beautiful studios in the country (two words: heated floors) or that I felt like I was walking into a family every time I laid down my Manduka mat. Something about the practice resonated deep inside of me. And before I knew it, yoga was something I felt I had to do, not something I felt I should do. I looked forward to my daily yoga classes, and soon yoga became a part of my life.

You know how else I knew it was for me? Despite all of those years that I (albeit inconsistently) worked out at gyms, I never shed a pound or gained an ounce of muscle. But as soon as I started practicing yoga regularly, my entire body changed. Maybe it’s the simple fact that because I love it I do it so much, which is as good an answer as any. Maybe it’s because yoga has superpowers and it just does that. Or maybe it’s the fact that this is what my body is meant to do. This is what feels good to my body and therefore my body responds accordingly. All I know is that I continue to experience physical transformations as a result of my practice.

Here’s something else about finding the physical activity that is right for you: You never ever ever ever ever need to talk yourself into going. Seriously. You will never give yourself another “you’ll feel so much better when it’s over” pep talk. In fact, you’ll do yourself the biggest favor by fine-tuning your ability to listen to your body. Yesterday I was speaking to someone who really loves the gym (I told you it was possible) and she described the same exact experience that I have with yoga: On those rare occasions when she doesn’t feel like going, she doesn’t go. And the next day when she feels like going to the gym again, her workouts are so much better—she feels stronger and has so much more energy. Same here: Whenever I don’t feel like going to yoga (I’d say this happens twice a month or so because I’m exhausted, sore, or need to get something else accomplished) I, well, don’t go. And I don’t feel an ounce of regret over it. Imagine that.

This is my long-winded way of saying: If you don’t look forward to your current fitness routine find something that you love. Forget about guidelines and recommendations. If it’s something that keeps your body moving, makes you feel good, and that you’ll do as consistently as you can, it will transform your life forever.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Breakfast Burrito Update

Since I know that you've all been sitting around wondering how my breakfast experiment went today (anyone?), I thought that I would ease your mind and fill you in. And....

It went really well! It's 1:45 pm and I am just having lunch now. (Full disclosure: I had a bowl of green grapes around noon.) Still, I'd say that my burrito was muy bueno! And yes, I'll address the whole eating at your desk thing at a later date.

I had two eggs scrambled with baby spinach, sliced red pepper, shredded carrots, and one of those breakfast patty thingamagigs all wrapped up in a sprouted grain tortilla that I heated in a pan. (I would have taken a photo of the final product, but I was so hungry that it was gone before I thought to do so. Instead, I included an image of Remy and Pippa taking a nap on the new rug under the new kitchen table that was delivered today just because I'm so darn excited about it.)


The verdict: My breakfast was completely delicious and kept me full for almost FOUR HOURS. A record in my book. Interesting side note: My palate must be so used to sweet tastes in the a.m. (not to mention the fact that my body is usually fueled by the sweet stuff for the better part of the morning) that I still wanted something sweet. The answer? About 4 oz of 100 percent fresh squeezed orange juice. I normally don't have it in the house since I think juice is silly -- I'd rather eat two whole oranges than drink a glass of OJ -- but I hosted a brunch a few weeks ago and happened to have some left. In any case, it was a great solution and I think it will come in handy as I make the transition to the more savory flavors housed in a breakfast wrap.

Besides the nutritional payoffs that come with forgoing cereal, I realized today that there are other benefits as well. (If you're thinking about making the change, but are on the fence, these bonuses may help you make the move. Also keep in mind that if you're having second thoughts about your cereal you don't have to give it up 100 percent of the time. I decided that this was the best decision for me primarily because of the excessive amounts of sugar and sodium that I was consuming along with the fact that I was so freaking hungry!) So here, the added bonuses of swapping cereal with eggs:

  • Buying a dozen organic cage-free eggs and some veggies is significantly less expensive than purchasing organic sugar-laden cereals and organic non-fat milk. (Make sure you're still getting enough calcium and vitamin D, though, by taking daily supplements, eating yogurt, or drinking milk.)
  • You get a couple of servings of veggies right off the bat. Certainly can't say the same about cereal.
  • Here's a big one: You can't go back for more. Let's face it, when eating cereal you've got to keep the milk-to-crunch ratio in check. So you top your bowl off with a little more and before you know it (or even if you don't) you've just added another serving. With eggs, you eat what you make and that's it! Built-in portion control, friends.
While I realize that there are other breakfast options out there besides the incredible edible, I think it's a great place to start. I'm a one-thing-at-a-time kind of person when it comes to making a change.

I also want to note that living a balanced life isn't only about food. So much more to write about besides eating (although it is one of my favorite things to do) and I will be sure to spice things up with a little more balanced variety soon.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Goodbye Granola

I recently ended a serious relationship…with my cereal. For as long as I have eaten solid foods (quite some time since I rejected baby food as an infant), I have started my day with a bowl of cereal. The brand of cereal has changed many times over the years, but it has always been my go-to morning grub. Cheerios. Total. Raisin Bran. Golden Grahams. Grape Nuts. Special K with Red Berries. Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds (that relationship lasted for nearly five years). Kashi Crunch. And, for the past two or three years, Cascadian Farms Cinnamon Raisin Granola has been my breakfast du jour.

I’ll take a moment here to give myself some gold stars for being a devout breakfast eater. Even before the research proving the health benefits of the a.m. meal piled up (lower risk of heart disease and weight gain to name a few), my mom knew what was good for me. In fact, I wake up hungry. Every. Single. Day. Bleary eyed, I stumble into the kitchen, pour myself a bowl of some kind of crunchy concoction, splash on organic non-fat milk, and chow.

No more.

Earlier this week I decided to examine just what, exactly, was in my breakfast bowl. It was a nightmare. One serving of my sweet granola with chewy raisins is 2/3 cup. When I measured how much I poured into my bowl it came out to two servings. One serving contains 210 calories. So I was shoveling in 420 calories and that doesn’t even include the milk. But let’s move beyond calories because I am happy to take in 500 of them in the morning if it’ll keep me full for hours so I can work without being interrupted by a growling belly.

The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons or 22 grams of sugar per day. One serving of granola contained (hey, I’m already using past tense—this breakup looks promising!) 16 grams. This means that I was (again!) consuming 32 grams of sugar, which is 50 percent over my daily sugar allotment before my day even started. No wonder I was ravenous within hours as my blood sugar took a steep nosedive following a short-lived rush.

And let’s not even get into the sodium. Okay, let’s. The AHA also recommends swallowing no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. I was already getting a third of that from a single food. Before 8 a.m. Ew.

So this brings me to making the change. Changes are not easy. I once wrote an article about the different steps involved in behavior change (pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, maintenance, and relapse). No need to go into the details here, but suffice it to say that anything that involves more than two steps (beginning, end) is pretty difficult to do. Case in point.

Since I’ve been eating the stuff for so long, I wake up craving cereal. Instead, this week, I decided to start my day with eggs. I don’t love eggs. I certainly don’t love them like I love granola. But I will learn to love them. I will nurture this relationship like any new relationship. I am still working out the right combination of food in the morning that will keep me full, since the ultimate goal here is to feel satisfied for at least three hours--ideally more.

Day One: I scrambled up one whole egg with one egg white. (By the way, research has disproved the theory that eating eggs raises cholesterol; it doesn’t.) To the eggs, I added a handful of baby spinach, some sliced red pepper, shredded carrots, and one vegetarian breakfast patty that I nuked in the microwave. (Funny thing, I don’t even like real sausage, but these things are surprisingly tasty!) Breakfast was delicious, but I was still hungry about two hours later.

Day Two: I decided that my error on day one was not enough fat and not enough food. So, I added a tiny amount of butter (probably ½ Tbsp, if that) to the hot pan. And, I scrambled up two eggs instead of one egg and one white. The other ingredients remained the same. Observations: The butter added great flavor (um, hello, it’s butter!), but I was still hungry two hours later.

When I told my mom about my experiment she suggested that I needed some kind of carbohydrate to help keep me full. A piece of toast or an English muffin. Good thinking, Mom. But it was already too late to go to the grocery store for carbs. And, on Day Three I was headed to Northwestern to speak to journalism students about freelance writing. So I started my day with a bowl of cereal (hey, relapse is a part of behavior change!)

However, when I got home, I decided that the only way to really make this change is to remove temptation so I tossed the cereal into the garbage. (Don’t worry, I took it out after snapping the photo above and recycled the cardboard container.) I realize that there are starving orphans in Africa and probably starving people down the street, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So into the garbage my granola went. This breakup is getting nasty.

Tomorrow will be Day Four. (Or Day One again? Who cares!) Since I don’t have a toaster and posses a mild fear of the broiler (um, there is not supposed to be fire in my oven!) I am resting my faith on this carbohydrate solution that I picked up today: Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Tortillas. Breakfast burrito, here I come! I’ve never had one before, but I’ve got high hopes for these little buggers.

Behind a Balanced Life

I have wanted to blog for a long time. A really long time. But I always promised myself that I wouldn’t occupy any corner of cyberspace unless I had a topic to blog about. So I waited. And waited. Until recently the idea dawned on me, as many ideas do, while walking my dogs.

The seed was actually planted several weeks ago when I started thinking about the peculiar comments I receive when I tell people that I write for health and fitness magazines for a living. Like: “Oh, wow, you must be really healthy.” Or, “So do you workout, like, every day?” Or, “Don’t look at me, I need to lose 10 pounds!” And my favorite, “I have this weird pain in my knee, what should I do?”

As much as I love dispensing medical advice (most likely the result of having a doctor and a nurse for parents, thanks guys!) and sometimes forget that I am not qualified to do so, I realized something: With all of the research, writing, and interviewing that I do, I have something to offer. Not only that, but I’ve recently become very aware of the informed personal lifestyle choices I make on a daily basis that could … maybe … possibly … perhaps … hopefully help others.

Ultimately, all of these things fall under the umbrella of what being healthy means to me. I define health as feeling as if your life is in balance. And thus, as I circled the block that my dogs and I have rounded so many times before (there must be ruts in the pavement by now) the blog was born: A balanced life.

Throughout this journey I intend to write about the things I find or learn that help me achieve a balanced life. I may also write about those things that move me away from my center—and how I find my way back.

For any yogi readers (yes, yoga will be making a frequent appearance here), here’s an analogy that I often think about when it comes to finding balance on and off the mat: It’s that feeling you achieve in an arm balance or, well, any balance pose where you could hold it forever. It’s that sweet spot where, even in a difficult posture, it begins to feel easy, effortless, and enjoyable. (Think: Crow, eka pada galavasana, and, for those who’ve got it – I don’t quite yet – handstand.) It takes a decent amount of work to find that place, but when you find the pieces that make it work, it’s a breeze. You almost need to do your favorite balance poses every chance you get because they feel so yummy and are so much fun.

In much the same way, when your life is in balance you make choices every day, often without realizing it, that keep you feeling healthy and happy.

So here’s to living a balanced life—a place where crappy TV and chocolate are as welcome as roasted asparagus and sun salutations.

And wine.