Monday, September 12, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
Part of living a balanced life is recognizing when maybe things aren’t so balanced and you need to find your way back to that happy place where you feel calm, centered, and healthy. Unfortunately, that requires the daunting tasks of a) identifying when something isn’t working so well anymore and b) doing something about it.
I am in the beginning stages of applying this two-step process to my diet. While it’s jam-packed with whole foods – most of them organic – and very few processed, packaged foods, I recently realized that it’s jam-packed with something else: Sugar. Yes, sugar. Now, it’s not like I sit at my desk stuffing my mouth with heaps of sour patch kids all day long (as much as I wish I was). But the sweet stuff, even in its natural form, happens to make an appearance in just about every piece of food that passes my lips throughout the day.
One of the biggest culprits? Fruit. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m insane for pointing my finger at those succulent strawberries, plump grapes, and tart blackberries. But here I am. I’m pointing my finger straight at those suckers and telling them that I love them dearly, which is why I eat them – too many of them – every single day. I’m pointing my finger right at the bowls of freshly sliced fruit that have taken over my fridge all summer long and I’m telling them that I know they’re good for me. I know that they’re full of fiber and water and vitamins and nutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants. But around my sweet, summer fruit I am rendered powerless. I find a way to sneak them into every single meal and snack and I ride that sugar coaster from morning until night. And every time I feel my blood sugar teetering on the edge and then plummet straight down, I crawl back to those bowls in my fridge for another sugary hit so I can climb my way up again.
I’m done being a slave to my food. There’s so much darn fruit in my diet that I’ve shoved (also healthful, though less sugary) veggies to one measly meal per day: Dinner.
Fruit is hardly the only source of sugar in my diet, I might add. It’s also found in:
The high-fiber, whole grain cereal I add to my plain Greek yogurt at breakfast
The squirt of Agave I add to my plain Greek yogurt at breakfast
The wheatberry bread I use for my peanut butter sandwich at lunch
The peanut butter on my sandwich at lunch
The cup of candy I enjoy each night for dessert
Okay, so there it is. Step A accomplished: I eat too much sugar. And as a result, I often feel edgy, and irritable throughout the day and am constantly thinking about my next sweet fix. Fortunately, I’m the only one who needs to be around me for most of the day, but when that’s not even a pleasant experience you know you’ve got a problem.
Now on to Step B: WTF do I do? Here’s the thing: I don’t do diets. Never ever will. I’m not about to pick up some super low-carb, low-sugar diet book and follow it to the word because I know I’ll be miserable and I know I can’t maintain that forever. I love food and I’m all about eating healthy for life. In my diet, there’s room for every single food. It’s just about finding the quantities of each kind that make me feel great. So what types of tweaks can I make to my overall diet that will satisfy my taste buds while keeping my blood sugar in check?
I gave it some thought, did a bunch of research and decided to take things in another direction altogether. Are you still with me here? Instead of cutting something out, I decided to add something in. The way I see it, if you tell yourself you can’t have something you’re only going to want it more. (At least that’s my experience.) But if you tell yourself you should have more of something then you find ways to sneak it in, hopefully edging the not-so-good stuff out. Hey, it's worth a shot.
So, I decided to focus on protein. Good old-fashioned protein. Besides the fact that lean protein is good for you, helps build muscle, and is digested more slowly than carbohydrates, which means it keeps you feeling fuller longer there’s something else to my protein theory. It doesn’t pair so well with sugar.
Now, instead of focusing on where I can cut back on sugar, I’m focusing on where I can add more protein. Let’s see: I can snack on hardboiled eggs or mixed nuts instead of, say, fresh cherries or dried apricots (oh how I love my dried fruit—those chewy morsels of concentrated sweetness). I can replace my PB sandwich and apple with a salad (more veggies, less fruit!) and chicken breast or tuna at lunch. Of course, I’ll still be sure to get plenty of whole grains (I love my quinoa (also protein!) and brown rice, which I often serve as sides with dinner) and there’s still space in my diet for fruit in small amounts. For instance, I can have an energizing fruit-protein combo as a pre-yoga snack: sliced apple with peanut butter instead of a Luna bar (oh yeah, probably should have added that to my sugary list above.)
One thing I’ll never ditch, however, is dessert. You’ll have to pry that cup of Swedish Fish out of my cold, dead hands before I ever consider giving that up.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
- 1 mango, diced
- 1 red onion, diced
- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
- 1 can organic black beans, drained and rinsed
- Juice of 4 limes
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Salt & pepper
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
- Discard the leaves from the broccolini and cut the stalks into 1/2-inch pieces.
- Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the fish dry and season with salt and pepper. Lightly coat the bottom of the skillet with olive oil. Add the fish and cook until nicely golden brown on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip the fish and cook until firm, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
- Add the garlic and a little more olive oil (about 1 Tbsp). Cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broccolini and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, beans and 1 cup broth and cook, stirring occasionally until the broccolini is tender and tomatoes have broken down and become a little saucy, about 5 minutes. If you're feeling extra saucy, add a little more broth and continue cooking a bit longer.
- Spoon the tomato-broccolini-bean mixture onto each plate and top with a portion of the fish. Lightly salt and pepper. Enjoy!
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
If there’s one thing I’m particularly bad at, especially in my adult life, it’s relaxing. Yep, I pretty much suck at it. Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I spend all 16 of my waking hours working. In fact, I allow myself one delicious hour of TV at the end of each weekday. But even those 60 minutes are carefully scheduled into my day. I zip through commercials (thank you, DVR) and as soon as the show is finished I turn off the TV and get into bed. And sometimes I wonder whether I was truly entertained or just felt compelled to watch the show in order to find out which poor guy the bachelorette sent packing.
For years, I’ve accepted my inability to fully relax—to let go, to do nothing, to chill out—as part of my personality. I’ve also figured that it might just be a reality of working for myself. Sure, it’s wonderful being my own boss and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But even when I have back-to-back deadlines and more work than I can handle, I’m still constantly worried whether I’m doing enough, whether I’m branding myself in the best possible way, whether I’m pitching enough, whether my work is the best it can possibly be, whether I’ll still have more work than I can handle (apparently in my book that’s a good thing) a month from now…six months from now…six years from now…
Yeah. It can be stressful. And I’ve let the pressure dictate not only what I do when I’m working, but also how I feel when I’m not.
That is, until someone special came into my life last year and has continued teaching me how to unwind ever since.
I guess you could say I learned by example. Because I saw that being driven and ambitious and taking time to relax aren't mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I’ve learned that the harder you work the more important it is to find that time to kick back. To do whatever you want. To do absolutely nothing at all. Part of the reason why it’s so crucial, of course, is self-preservation. But more importantly, it’s about taking the time to enjoy life. To taste the fresh berries on your tart frozen yogurt that you picked up on your walk home from the delicious pancake brunch at 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. To feel the sunshine on your shoulders and fully enjoy the company you’re in (
even especially if it’s your own). To simply do the living that’s so difficult to do with deadlines and e-mails and phone calls.
My newly discovered ability to relax was truly put to the test a few weeks ago during my family’s sailing vacation to the British Virgin Islands. (Tough life. I know.) My fear was that the trip would be wasted on me. It was my first non-working vacation since I’ve been, well, working, and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to let work go. That I’d cling to my iPhone, checking my e-mail every 10 minutes to make sure I didn’t miss the chance to accept an assignment or correspond with an editor.
Fortunately, I had had some practice in this whole relaxing thing in the months leading up to this vacation so I took steps to prevent this frenzied approach. I let everyone know I was going away. I put up a vacation message for the first time ever. (I actually had to Google how to put up a Gmail vacation message.) And luckily, my phone didn’t work in the islands. The only person who could keep me from soaking up what it truly meant to be on vacation was me.
But I got out of my way. And I relaxed. Fully…completely…entirely…
Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the very best experience of my life.
Maybe I owe it to the buzz of Pusser’s rum in my morning coffee. Or the feel of the cool breeze against my skin, sticky with SPF and humid air. Or the crescendo of laughter echoing from our cockpit countless times per day. It could be the pina coladas and deep-fried conch fritters we sampled on every island; the water slide and infinity pool; or the five-star meal at TradeWinds on Peter Island.
More likely it was because I got out of my way so I could soak up every moment of joy. Because I knew that there was nothing else on my agenda but to do just that.
A couple of months from now I might forget the taste of the nutmeg sprinkled on top of my rum punch and the hard-to-pronounce name of our boat, Lalie. But what I will remember for as long as I live was that this was the very first time in my life I surrendered enough to let life in. And it is my deepest hope that I will never forget how.
In case I ever need a reminder of what relaxation looks like.
Friday, April 22, 2011
I have a confession to make. Between February and this past week, I had only been on my yoga mat a handful of times. Four. Maybe. At first blush, this might not seem like such a big deal. Everyone goes through a rut now and again whether you’re a yogi or a runner. But if you know me, you know yoga is what I do. It’s my happy place. It’s not just a form of exercise or a hobby. It’s part of who I am. It’s so ingrained in me, in fact, that I have to do it.
And yet, for months, I didn’t.
There are many reasons why my mat remained rolled up, secured within turquoise Velcro straps, and nestled next to a bookcase for the majority of that time. Life. Work. A case of pneumonia that caused coughing so intense I fractured a rib. Not only was this the first time I had been sick in about six years, it was the first time I had ever experienced an injury. It was the first time I ever felt acute pain day in and day out.
Now, months later, my rib feels more like a distant ache. The coughing has ceased. So I shuffled life and work around this week to carve out time to get back to yoga. It was time.
Traveling through those initial Sun Salutations, I felt like a stranger in my body. Instead of my torso lying flush against my legs in forward fold, there was space between the two. Light could pass through. Whose body was this? Pushing up from the floor into Plank and pressing back into Down Dog—only months ago a simple, routine task—made my arms and shoulders quiver. Had I never done this before?
A wave of frustration crashed over me. I’d lost those things that were part of who I was. My bendiness. My strength. My brightness each time I stepped to the head of my mat. Yoga didn’t feel like yoga. It felt foreign and uncomfortable. Where was the joy in the movement, the grace in the flow? In just a few short months they had sulked off and abandoned me.
I kept moving anyway.
With every pose, my body created shapes that were weak imitations of what it could once do. As I lengthened out into Trikonasa, feeling awkward and unsteady in my foundation, I realized I had a decision to make. In every pose I could give into defeat and dwell on the fact that my body wasn’t capable of doing everything it could do in early 2011. Or I could step into my body.
After all, this was the very same body that could do whatever it wanted only a few months ago. Today’s body had tighter hamstrings, weaker shoulders, and misalignments. But it was still mine. And here I was giving it exactly what it needed and asked for. I could spend the remainder of the class judging its shortcomings with every move I made or I could just keep moving. I could accept that today’s body doesn't feel the same as January’s body and it’s not going to feel like tomorrow’s body either. This is what it can do right now in this moment. It doesn't matter if I can get my nose to my knees or my foot to my head. All that mattered was that I showed up.
As I let go and stepped into my body and stepped my body to the head of my mat, I felt for the first time, in a long time, that I was finally home. And like a weary traveler, I plan to stay for a very, very long time.
Monday, January 31, 2011
I knocked the socks off of dinner tonight. So, naturally, I had to share it with you. It’s a meal that the likes of Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan would totally endorse—made only with fish, veggies and legumes. Plus, it's incredibly easy and fast. Get ready because this is quickly going to become a weeknight staple...at least in my home!
Mediterranean Fish Packets
2 halibut filets (about 6 oz each)
1 can organic no salt added diced tomatoes*
1 can organic no salt added great northern beans^
1 can organic no salt added kidney beans^
1 bunch organic collard greens or any leafy green vegetable (spinach or kale would also work), washed, stems removed, and cut into thin slices
1 lemon, sliced
2 sheets aluminum foil
Preheat oven to 450.
Thoroughly rinse beans. In the middle of each slice of aluminum foil divide ingredients and layer in this order: Collard greens, tomatoes, both kinds of beans, and fish. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper and top with two lemon slices each. Fold the packets, place on baking sheet and cook for about 18-20 minutes. Let them sit for 2 to 3 minutes while you open a bottle of sauvignon blanc (Cakebread if we're dreaming here). Using tongs, place the contents of each packet on a plate and dig in--guiltlessly.
*When in season, I’m sure regular tomatoes would be key, but canned diced tomatoes are a great winter solution.
^As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of anything that comes in a can because of the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA). I ordered a slow cooker this weekend so I’m going to try this recipe again after cooking dried beans in it all day and compare. Still, beans are so wonderful for you so it’s more than OK if they come from a can—just rinse really well.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
As anyone who has ever stepped onto a sticky mat knows, yoga is a metaphor for life. Sometimes the parallels are subtle—like learning the meaning of humility when you nail a tough pose and then quickly tumble out of it; or understanding patience when gently coaxing your body to learn a new one. And sometimes the parallels are lovingly-slap-you-upside-the-head obvious. That’s what I experienced lately. The lesson: Translating the suppleness in body I’ve accrued on the mat to flexibility in mind off the mat.
Let me start at the beginning to show you how I got there (and by there I mean seeing that this is a lesson I need to learn—not one that I’ve mastered quite yet.)
I love routines. Ask me what I’ve had for lunch for the past 20 years and you’ll see just how much I cling to my routines for dear life. The way I see it, there is so much to think about and so many decisions to make on a daily basis. Creating habits that are more reliable than a gray sky in January eliminates the need to make so many decisions, clearing up mental space to tackle the more unexpected events life lofts our way from one moment to the next.
But life is not static. So a routine that works for us in one scenario may become burdensome when life veers off in a different direction. And that’s exactly what happened to me.
The avenue through which I learned this very yogic lesson came from…wait for it…yoga of all places (shocker, I know.) Since I first began my practice four years ago, I’ve always (always) taken classes in the evening. It made the most sense. It didn’t interfere with my workday, it gave me an incentive to step away from my computer at a reasonable hour, and it was a pleasant way to transition from work mode to me mode.
But about a month ago I realized that this routine wasn’t as lovely as it appeared. I often had to detach myself from my computer while there were still fires burning in my inbox—not the most ideal way to show up to a yoga class. By the time I drove home after class and walked the dogs, it was often 8:30 or 9pm before I sat down to dinner. Not my favorite. And as much as I love backbends, doing half a dozen of them is the energetic equivalent of downing several shots of espresso and then trying to fall asleep a few hours later.
So what other options did I have? I could take a morning class, sure, but that would be crazy! Most other people would be at work while I’d be twisting and folding on my mat. That would be way too indulgent! And what would happen in my inbox while I was away from my iMac? My editors are used to my rapid-fire responses and now, sometimes, they’d have to wait an hour or more before my reply. Surely, my career would fall apart.
I drummed up enough courage earlier this month to try just one a.m. yoga class. And guess what? None of this happened. When I flipped on my iPhone and loaded my e-mail afterward, I realized that the world did not end just because I checked out (or checked in, depending on how you look at it) for two hours. (Go figure.) In fact, I’m able to return to my desk with a more even temper and a clearer conscience and work more efficiently thanks to my morning practice. To compensate for the time away, I often work later into the evening, but this gives me the opportunity to wrap up more items than I could when I was rushing out the door at 5 p.m. The result? A calmer mind when I climb into bed. Even better, I can give those badass backbends all the gusto I like and ride the energetic wave throughout the rest of the afternoon. It’s kind of awesome.
I totally understand that having the ability to take a yoga class at any time I like is a luxury. I get it. And I’m still working on getting over the guilt I feel when taking advantage of this luxury. But what good is this unique career and life I’ve created for myself if I don’t reap the benefits? Before, I may as well have signed up for a job in a cubicle because I had basically boxed myself in with my routines anyway.
The implications of this shift have reached much farther than dictating the time of day that I practice yoga (and if I can’t make a morning class then I go in the evening—another way in which I’ve let go of some rigidity.) More importantly, I’ve taken this lesson as an opportunity to reexamine other routines in my life that may no longer work for me, as hard as I have tried to hold on to them. I ask myself: Does this routine make my life happier/calmer/better/easier/more blissful/more fun? With the answers, I’ve released several of them and revised others.
I still believe that routines have their place as long as they are an intentional part of our daily existence instead of an automatic one without purpose or meaning. With this in mind, I’m still okay admitting that I am and probably will always be a creature of habit (if nothing else, it makes me a very reliable friend!)
And as far as my daily lunch is concerned? Well that’s not about to change any time soon.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Sticking with the New Year theme, I thought I’d tell you about the unbelievable soup I made last week. Hands down the best one to date. What does this have to do with the New Year other than the fact that I made it the first week of January? I’ll tell ya: I made lentil soup. Still not seeing the connection? According to some traditions (Italian, I think? Can anyone vouch for that?) eating lentils at the start of a new year symbolizes good luck and prosperity. I’d been looking for a great lentil soup recipe for a while and as soon as I landed on one, I figured what better time to have a crack at it? Get out your stockpot and pile of veggies—this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa is a keeper.
1 pound French green lentils (MUST be French green lentils—they maintain their consistency far better than regular ones. I found them in the bulk aisle at Whole Foods.)
3 large yellow onions, chopped
2 leeks, chopped (white parts only)
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground cumin
8 stalks celery, chopped
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 quarts low-sodium chicken stock
¼ cup tomato paste
In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for 2 to 3 hours, until the lentils are cooked through.
I’ll admit that it’s tempting to want to set a New Year’s resolution. The thought that somehow when the clock strikes 12am on January 1, you could be a new person—a better version of yourself because it’s a new year—is enticing. But I know better. Resolutions are hard. They’re often broken and they take work and change. The dreaminess of Paige version 2011 is overshadowed by what’s truly behind a resolution—admitting that the current version of myself isn’t good enough or that some part of myself doesn’t make the cut as I cross over into a new year. And resolutions are lonely. It’s you against the universe trying to upgrade some aspect of yourself that isn’t quite right. While I’m all for constant self-improvement and refining my definition of who I am, I never want it to feel like a struggle. It should be a natural, seamless evolution of my being.
So this year, standing outside in the snow swallowing frisky bubbles of champagne while moving my body to Michael Jackson beats on New Year’s Eve, I resolved that setting intentions were much more my speed. At first blush, an intention may not seem that distinct from a resolution, but to me it’s a horse of a different color. An intention is like a pact with the universe. “Look, universe, I’ll do my part to bring this desire to fruition if you’ll lend a hand along the way.” And unlike a resolution, which often ends in disappointment, an intention will almost never let you down. No matter how hard you try to make your intention a reality, if it hasn’t happened yet it either a) isn’t time or b) actually has come true and you haven’t realized it. As an aside, the latter happened to me just a few months ago. For nearly a year, my intention was a single word: “Shiny.” I set it over and over again and focused on it even though I had no idea what it truly meant at the time. The word had just come to me, randomly, and I went with it. And one day toward the end of last year, I noticed a shiny quality in myself—I was bright, enthusiastic, and energetic. I felt like a beam of positive energy. I realized that I had been setting this intention, not knowing its true meaning, when I’d actually been shiny for months. It was who I had become, and yet I was still hoping to cultivate that quality because I hadn’t yet acknowledged that it was a fundamental part of my personality.
So what intentions was I going to set? I knew immediately. (My belief is that if I need to think long and hard about my intentions, they’re not really my intention—they’re something I think I should want. Or if I choose to ignore my immediate thoughts because they seem silly or strange then I’m not giving them a chance—I could have easily ignored “shiny” because it’s ridiculous. Instead, I went with it to find out where it would take me and it lead to a deeper understanding of myself. If you truly want something your gut will know and once you check in, it will relay the message to your conscious mind. Spiritual anatomy, folks! Ha.) So, without thinking long and hard, here are the two intentions I set for 2011:
Opportunities. I actually set this in 2010, but at the time framed it—more or less—as “career opportunities.” Boy, was it a success. Just last year I started writing for magazines I never imagined would sport my bylines—Oprah, Everyday with Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart Living, MensHealth.com, and American Baby—while stepping up my contributions to Women’s Health, SELF, Fitness, and others. Rock on. While I hope to continue expanding my career opportunities, my intention is to invite and create opportunities in as many aspects of my life as possible (dream big, right?): Friends, family, love, travel, and yoga to name a few. How will I do this? Really, I think it’s about creating and seeking out opportunities. Pitching stories to more magazines can result in greater writing opportunities. Taking advantage of opportunities to spend time with my family means deepening my relationship with them. In addition to two upcoming Anusara yoga immersions in Park City, I’m hoping to do at least one other yoga workshop somewhere this year—I just need to look into the opportunities that exist and appeal to me most and then jump on board. Really, it’s up to me. But it’s also an open invitation for the universe to let me know when I’m on the right path and to help guide my actions into favorable outcomes along the way.
Acceptance. This is a biggie. Ginormous, really. So here’s the deal. Originally, what came to mind was, “not comparing myself to others.” But I like to leave negative words (like “not”) out of intentions—I don’t want to send the universe any mixed messages. So what “not comparing myself to others” really means is “accepting myself for who I am, as I am.” Acceptance. Recently, I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to compare myself to others. All. The. Freaking. Time. And no matter what, I always fall short. I literally set myself up for failure. Clearly, this behavior fits neatly under the heading of Habits That Don’t Serve Me. It’s definitely at the top of the list. (Right above checking my email every four seconds, but that’s another story.) I’m done with it. What good does it do? I can appreciate other people’s successes for the examples they set in my life, but really, I’m the only one I need to worry about. What they do—or have, achieve, think, or look like for that matter—has no impact on who I am unless I allow it to detract from who I am. But I’m closing that door. (I can’t expect it to happen over night, but acknowledging when it happens is certainly a first step. The next step is remembering my own goodness exactly as I am.) And that starts now.
Finally, here’s the beautiful thing about an intention (vs. a resolution): You can set them any time. You can set them every day if you like or renew them or revise them as the year goes on. Not so much with a resolution—it’s a once a year phenomenon; you don’t often hear people setting a resolution in July, for instance. And one more thing: With an intention, success is the only outcome because you always receive exactly what you need.