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My Adventures in Spain-chapter1: Walking…in sickness and in health

They do a lot of it here in Gijon, in the northern coastal of province of Asturias. Like any city, the roughly 300,000 Asturianos walk for many reasons: transportation to / from work, daily necessities & markets, futbol matches, recreation & fitness (for them and their 4-legged pals) and just to be outside in the fresh air. Also, Spaniards are a very social bunch, so more reason to get out and walk with friends, family, or neighbors.

But what strikes me so much is the number of elderly (some of them very elderly), injured, rehabilitating, sick, etc…that are out with everybody else. Many times it’s with care-givers holding onto, pushing in wheelchairs, or generally acting as crutches for these folks to get out and walk! As a Physical Therapist, I often find myself watching some of these people and cringing, waiting for them to trip, topple, and fall flat on their brittle-bone faces. But they don’t! I haven’t seen 1 elderly person fall yet, and there are a LOT of them here. 

What’s the secret? Well…walking, of course. But it’s also that they’re walking outside (instead of a hospital / rehab floor or a retirement home hallway that’s been intentionally cleared of all obstacles), offering a “real” environment with real obstacles, distractions, varied surfaces, all the aspects of “real” challenges to the body, brain, and balance systems. And not to mention riding on buses-I’ve seen several quite elderly folks climb up the bus steps, balance themselves while they try to find a seat as the driver pulls out oblivious to their slow movement, manage to find a seat, and sit, all the while holding 2 bags of groceries and a purse on their shoulder!

AND NO FALLS – INCREDIBLE! 

 

Back Pain – Part II: What to do?


Ok, hopefully you’ve gained some insight into why your back is spasm-ing, now what should you do about it? Well, it goes without saying, there are lots of “experts” out there with lots of advice. Are they right? At risk of sounding like a broken record – it depends…on what exactly the cause is.  But, again, more and more research points to the soft tissues (i.e. muscles / tendons / ligaments, NOT discs, bones, or spinal nerves) as the usual suspects. So here are my top tips to manage acute back pain:

  1. Don’t freak out! Unless you are having 1 of the “red flags” I mentioned in the previous post, stay calm and know that you WILL recover and the pain will most likely go away fairly soon.
  2. Get comfortable: try to find whatever position makes you have less pain / discomfort, even if just a little bit. This is sometimes tough in the beginning, because your soft tissues are sounding the alarm, and often it’s hard to get them to shut off right away. This is where a short term bout of pain medications and/or muscle relaxers can be beneficial. Position yourself to keep your painful tissues in a shortened position, not lengthened or tensioned. This will help communicate to the brain that all is ok, in hopes of getting the brain to stop guarding & protecting (i.e. spasm-ing) the muscles.
  3. Get moving: in whatever way you are able that does not significantly increase your symptoms. Study after study is showing the longer you remain inactive the longer your pain and disability will ultimately last. So, get moving, even if it’s only walking around the house or apartment initially. If you have access to a warm water pool, walking in warm water is one of the best early exercises to ease acute symptoms.
  4. Exercise & stretching: in the early stages (3-4 days up to 2-3 wks) it is risky to do exercise that loads / challenges or stretches the injured tissue(s). But it’s a trial-and-error thing. If an exercise or stretch makes it feel better, that’s a green light. If it’s worse, red light, stop, try again tomorrow. Generally, gentle non-weight loaded range of motion exercises / stretches (i.e. lying on back doing abdominal “drawing tummy in” isometrics and / or pulling knee(s) to chest stretch) are safe after a short healing period, but it depends. You just have to try  things and see how your body responds. But remember, DON’T PUSH THROUGH THE PAIN.
  5. Massage? Heat or ice? Rubs / creams? If it’s indeed muscular, anything that promotes circulation is good. So heat, muscle rubs / creams, gentle massage, even modalities like Ultrasound or Laser are all good ways to stimulate blood flow. Ice is better if there is a specific nerve that is irritated or inflamed, such as with true sciatica or carpal tunnel syndrome. Because muscles have referring pain patterns that can feel nerve-y, it can be unclear as to which is the source. This is where it’s advisable to get an expert’s opinion…especially if symptoms are not improving after a week or 2.

Physiatrists (non-surgical physical medicine specialists), Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Acupuncturists, and even some skilled Massage Therapists can help diagnose by doing specific testing or palpating in attempt to reproduce symptoms. Once specific tissues are confirmed to be the primary cause, a plan of care can be initiated. Remember, it’s important not to wait too long to seek help. The longer symptoms remain, the longer it can take to get rid of them.

Lastly, are back belts / braces helpful? If they’re soft or flexible ones like you find at the drug store-yes. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about back braces weakening your back. That is true ONLY for rigid back braces, like the ones you would be given at the hospital for a fractured spine. The flexible, corset-style braces, like you see employees at Lowes and Home Depot wearing, will actually make you safer by helping increase your leg strength because they force more knee bend / squatting motion to pick something up rather than using your back to do it-that’s a good thing! So, spend the $20 and get one, whether you’re in recovery or prevention.

Once symptoms start to ease off and mobility is returning, gradually advancing exercises to get the abdominal and gluteal (buttocks area) muscles working is usually best, as these are supporting muscles to the back. Things like bridges (pictured here), side-lying leg raises, donkey kicks or bird dogs (pictured above) are all safe early exercises. Progressing from there should be the start of pushing, squatting, lunging, and eventually pulling & lifting – all of which should continue to be done regularly to prevent low back pain from coming back. T’ai Chi and Yoga are also excellent practices to bring awareness and knowledge of the body, all the various muscles & connective tissues, and how it’s all connected.

Back pain royally sucks, no doubt (I speak from personal experience). It will strike most of us at some point in our lives- some people earlier than others, some more intensely and debilitating than others, some recover quickly while others it becomes a chronic condition. Why? The first answer is: genetics. You got what you’re given, like it or not. Just like your height, eye color, condition of your heart, or how flexible you are, genetics plays a huge role. Many of the primary structural contributors to back pain like Osteoarthritis, Degenerative Disc / Joint Disease, and spinal Stenosis are determined by your genetic parents. Many people develop these conditions early on in life, while some not until much later. Identical twin studies have helped prove this, whereby identical siblings will be tracked over their life span. One may have a very physical job / lifestyle, the other more sedentary, and most of the time they will develop the same back pain causing conditions at about the same time. There’s not much you can do about this except minimize environmental conditions & lifestyle choices that exacerbate these conditions. Things like being overweight, smoking, not exercising, having a poor diet – they all can contribute to earlier onset and/or worse symptoms when these conditions are present.

But what about when these conditions are not present? Why do so many people (in fact, the majority of acute back pain sufferers) get back pain when none of these conditions are present? The short answer is: those same environmental & lifestyle conditions that have a huge effect on the physical state of your soft tissues. Things like stress, certain movements / postures, poor muscle strength or endurance, and poor body mechanics can bring on back pain. Humans are upright beings with long, relatively thin back muscles, which are NOT designed to do a lot of heavy work or lift / move heavy loads. Yet go to any construction site and see the heavy loads being lifted / moved / carried w/ bent backs and straight legs – OUCH! That’s a back spasm waiting to happen. Not to mention the load that intervertebral discs are subjected to when one bends over to lift even just a 20# object with a rounded back (discs can bear 5-10x more lbs / sq. in. than the load itself). This causes OVERLOAD. And just like when you overload an electrical outlet in your home, your brain acts as the breaker box and “trips the breaker. ” Only instead of cutting off the electricity, it supplies your back with an involuntary, uncontrollable, and often unending blast of electricity, commonly called a spasm. This can last for a few hours or a few weeks, depending on many various factors, things such as: is it a repetitive stress / movement that has accumulated trauma to the tissue over time or is it a single action that overloaded it? What state was the tissue is in to begin with – were the tissues healthy, fit, and in good condition prior to the event or were they stiff, dehydrated, weak / fatigued? How much rest and healing time is the sufferer able to allow the overloaded tissues before subjecting them to loads again? These all play into how intense, frequent, and long lasting back pain can be. Plenty of research is out there, even in popular magazines like Consumer Reports, saying that the most common cause of acute back pain is muscle / tendon / ligament injury. A host of medical experts and studies in the past 5-7 years have proven that the typical ways of evaluating and treating back pain (X-Rays & MRIs followed by invasive treatments & opioid medications) have failed to show any significant reduction in either pain or disability. That’s partly because it’s been proven that the structures that most commonly show up as “positive findings” on X-Rays and MRIs (bulging or deteriorated discs, facet arthritis) are not typically what’s causing the back pain. So getting these tests can lead a person to receiving all kinds of unnecessary treatments without getting to the source of the problem.

So, what can we do about it – both before an acute back pain eruption and after it’s already happened? The best things to do to prevent, or at least minimize the likelihood, of back pain is to stay fit and be smart. Being fit means maintaining an equal amount of mobility / flexibility as well as strength. A person can be super strong but have very little flexibility (picture the stereotypical logging crew guy that can pick up a tree and sling it over his shoulder but can’t get to his kneecaps in a forward bend). Conversely, one can be the best Yogi in the class, so flexible she can lay her forearms on the floor, but her core muscles can’t stabilizer her pelvis carrying a laundry basket up a flight of stairs. Both of these individuals are more likely to get a back spasm due to overload of those long, thin back muscles –  the guy from over-stretching, the gal from over-working. Once an overload has occurred, it depends on how severe the brain perceives the overload to be that determines how severe the “trip of the breaker” is. It could be as mild as a little bit of tightness in certain motions or difficulty bending all the way over to tie a shoe lace, or so severe the person can’t stand up or even roll over in bed. NOTE: Pain in these situations, even what feels like nerve type pain or pain radiating down into the legs, is most often normal, and should be thought of as a sign that the signaling system is working as it should, not that there is something structurally wrong that needs to be “fixed.” There are a few “red flags,” however, that do warrant an urgent exam by a doctor or other practitioner experienced in back pain: bilateral and/or unrelenting radiating pain into an unchanging region of the body or leg(s), loss of function or control of any part of the body (bowel / bladder or other organ, legs, or feet). Once those red flags are ruled out, the biggest healers are: avoidance of exacerbating movements / activities / postures, getting professional help to speed recovery (Physical Therapy is obviously my first recommendation), and time. Medications and pain blocks can mask the signals the injured tissues are sending the brain, thereby allowing you to go on business as usual and that can further injure already injured tissues. Rest and recovery are what the brain is trying to force when it causes “spasms,” so listen to it! 

Besides MDs & Physical Therapists there are lots of other practitioners out there that say they treat back pain: Chiropractors, Massage Therapists, Acupuncturists, even a dozen or two YouTube gurus who claim everything from “solve your back pain in 5 minutes or less” to “never have back pain again.” Who’s telling the TRUTH?

The truth is: they’re all right…sort of. Watch for Part II of this post….

 

 

Admission of Guilt!

 

Power = Thought + Communication + Emotion + Action

Ok, ok, I’m going to come clean: I have NOT lived up to my previously stated goal of writing a blog & sharing tips and tricks to keep on your New Year’s goals every week, as I said in February’s post…not even every 4 weeks…more like every 6. BUT – that’s OK. I’m not going to beat myself up about it because I’ve not met my goal, I just know I’m not making it a habit in my life (again, see February’s post).

But here is what I have to share today, something called THE POWER FORMULA:

RESULTS = THOUGHT  +  COMMUNICATION  +  EMOTION  +  ACTION

In a nutshell: the results you get (and should expect to get) are the product of these 4 things. If you put negative or poor quality things in, you’re going to get negative or poor quality results out….if you put positive or high quality in, you’ll get positive / high quality results out…pretty simple.

Thought:  AVOID NEGATIVITY! Stop with the media already – they want us to be captivated, and the human mind gravitates toward negativity as a self survival mechanism: “If my life / existence is being threatened, I must act!” Surround your brain with POSITIVITY – inspiring music, great podcasts, uplifting movies / TV shows (are there any?), etc..

Communication:  LEARN TO DO THIS, WELL, and OFTEN. Lots of new research is out showing that life fulfillment & joy is directly proportional to the amount of good, quality relations you have with other humans (i.e. communication). If this is a challenge for you, look into sources of help: books, talks, seminars (there’s a TON of this stuff on the web)…a few I recommend: http://www.success.com/article/10-ways-to-be-a-better-communicator; Compassionate Communication or NVC (www.cnvc.org or our local group www.Ashevilleccc.com); books How to Win Friends and Influence People or Ask More.

Emotion: GET THESE UNDER YOUR CONTROL! When emotion is high, intelligence and the ability to make quality decisions is low. Do NOT make critical decisions when you are in a high emotional state. Get them under control. Deep breathing helps stimulate the “calming” part of the nervous system. Also removing yourself physically from the thing causing your high emotions – go for a walk, go to the bathroom / drinking fountain, whatever you can do in the moment to calm yourself down before reacting / making a decision.

Action: This is often the hardest thing to do. First, find out your base nature: are you a high action-taker person or not? One way to determine this something called the KolbeA index test (www.kolbe.com). It is a test that will help measure your tendencies towards actions, reactions, and interactions. It is very helpful, especially if you’re a leader or boss or director-pay the $50 and take it!

Hope these tips help!

Now go out there and become a better YOU!

We’re doing this for YOU…..really, we are!

              Membership Commitment

                    WHO ARE YOU?   WHO DO YOU WANT TO BE?

Ok, some of you may have heard we’re changing our membership structure away from ALL classes included with our membership, and to more of an a la carte system: you choose what you want before you commit (and pay). We are asking YOU to decide: what is your health and your body worth? What kind of commitment are you really willing to make for that big ‘ole sack of cells that hauls you around, lifts & carries things you want moved, caters to the every wish and whimsy (well, almost) of that squishy round thing at the top that’s always trying to see, smell, hear, talk, and think? How much time are you willing to commit? How much money? How much sweat? How……much…….is…….it…….worth……?

Well, we know that, as with everything, different strokes for different folks. With our new lower priced basic membership, which includes a smattering of introductory classes AND new member / equipment orientation, PLUS a whole bunch of new, exciting fitness & wellness courses designed by our amazing, super knowledgeable trainers and Physical Therapists, there really is something for everyone!

For the do-it-yourself’er: basic membership – $29 / month.

For the mostly do-it-yourself’er but with a little bit of help & guidance, or at least some fresh workout ideas to keep things from going stale: basic membership AND pick 1 course per month that runs 1x/wk: $29 / mo + $7.50 for each class in the course (that’s $30 if it’s 4 weeks).

Need a little more help / guidance: pick a 2x/wk course or 2 different courses: $10 / class without a basic membership, $7.50 with 

You’re the “there’s no way I’m going to put those gym shoes back on unless there’s somebody there telling me exactly what to do and barking at me if I’m slacking” type: no gym membership, only courses: 2-3x/wk (at least): $10/class, $20-30/wk – about the price of a tank of gas (small car), or a meal out (not downtown)…..not that much.

Get the picture? Like I said, something for everyone – you get to decide who you are and who you want to be!

For more info, come to any of the following info sessions, hosted by yours truly, at the gym:

                     Thurs 5/4 10 a.m.,           Tues 5/9 at 5:30,               Fri 5/19 at 11:45 a.m.,             Mon 5/22 at 6 a.m.

 

In gratitude for ALL of our past, current, & future members.

Damon

New Year’s Resolutions-friend or foe?

AFF

Asheville Family Fitness strong!

We’re back! After a much too long hiatus (Sam, we miss you), we’ve resuscitated our blog. And couldn’t be a better time! This is the time of year that many, possibly even you, decide to make positive change in their lives and get in shape. GO YOU! Don’t listen to the naysayers or statisticians that poo-poo the new years resolution-ers with balloon-popping data of drop out rates, unmet goals, and more inches to the waist-line. NO, you’re going to do it! And we’re going to help! Over the next 3 months we’re going to post

tips backed by research to help you stay focused & achieve your new year goals. Plus, were going to be posting and sharing exercises & videos on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/AshevilleFamilyFitness) to help you avoid injury.

So, without further ado….

Here are some tips from experts that REALLY WORK:

  1. Set realistic, attainable goals. If you’re learning how to play the piano, you wouldn’t set Beethoven’s 5th as your goal would you? Of course not. There’s nothing wrong with setting an easily attainable goal. Once you meet it, you’ll give yourself the feeling of accomplishment & success, and that will help build your momentum. Now set another, more challenging goal…and so on. Just like taking a flight of stairs, tackle…1… at… a… time.
  2. Have a workout buddy or partner. Lots of research says that this is the #1 factor that consistent exercisers have in common. Got an old friend or co-worker you’ve been wanting to connect with? Call them up, chances are they’ve been thinking about getting in shape too (we all do at one point or another, don’t we?). Need to mend some holiday bridges with a sibling or family member? Great opportunity to hold out an olive branch.
  3. Food journal. Simply keeping track of exactly what you’re putting in your mouth and when creates HUGE changes in your diet-research proves it. Successful programs like Weight Watchers have been doing that for years, and continue to, so it must work. But you can start simple & do it yourself: there are lots of free ones on the internet and inexpensive ones elsewhere-Wal Mart even carries one. Then the stage is set for you to begin shedding that extra weight and improving the way you look AND (more importantly) feel.
  4. Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going. If you’re reading this, you probably have the motivation, but what you need to create is the habit. Don’t look short term (“I want to lose 30# for that party coming up”) but think long term (“I want to prevent my joints from wearing out.” or “I want to not only be around for, but be physically able to play and have fun with, my grand kids.”)

Implement these tips right away and they will add to your success in the new year, I promise!

Damon

Bust Out of Your Salad Rut with These 4 Original Recipes

Radish salad

The transition of seasonal change — even though it happens every year, four times — is always a bit… funky.

Not only are you swapping out your wardrobe, adjusting to the additional hours of daylight, and digging through your storage room for dust-covered box fans, but all of a sudden your well-oiled-machine of a mealtime routine goes to pieces. Who wants slow-cooker turkey chili when it’s 75 degrees outside?

It’s time to dust off the old salad spinner, y’all. And I’ve got four fancy-feeling salads that you’ll actually be excited to dig into.

Strawberry Fields

Serves: 1  Prep Time: 15 mintues

  • 3 leaves Lacinato kale, cut into ribbons
  • 4-5 Romaine leaves, cut into ribbons
  • 4 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
  • Handful alfalfa or broccoli sprouts
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 5-6 strawberries, quartered
  • 1/4 C walnuts
  • 1/4 C goat or cow feta crumbles
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Black pepper to taste

1. Arrange greens and sprouts in a large bowl and toss to combine.

2. Top with radish slices, berries, nuts and cheese, and drizzle vinegar and oil over everything. Season with lots of black pepper.

Spring Green Salad 

Serves: 1  Prep Time: 15 minutes

  • 2 handfuls mixed baby spinach & arugula
  • 3-4 dandelion greens, chopped
  • 2-3 romaine leaves, torn
  • Handful alfalfa sprouts
  • 5 strawberries, cut into fourths
  • 2 T goat cheese, crumbled
  • Small handful of chopped walnuts
  • Drizzle balsamic vinegar
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine greens, sprouts, and strawberries in a large bowl, toss to combine. Top with walnuts and goat cheese.

2. In a separate container, mix vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. Take to work and dress salad just before serving.

3. To make this a bit more hearty, add some sliced turkey.

Fennel Apple Salad

Serves: 1  Prep Time: 15 minutes

  • 4 T fresh orange juice
  • 1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed
  • 3 handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1/4 C chopped walnuts

1. Mix juices, oil, tarragon, mustard, and salt in a large bowl. Add salad ingredients and toss to coat.

Chard & Cherries Salad

Serves: 2  Prep time: 10 minutes

  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, shredded (you can dice the stalks if you want, or save them for stock)
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • Big handful alfalfa sprouts
  • 3 radishes, thinly sliced
  • ½ a green apple, thinly sliced
  • ½ T nutritional yeast
  • Handful dry-roasted sunflower seeds
  • Handful dried cherries

Combine everything except the yeast & sunflower seeds in a big bowl and toss with dressing. Just before serving, sprinkle yeast & seeds.

For the dressing:

  • Equal parts apple cider vinegar & extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • Dash coconut nectar (optional)
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • Sea salt & black pepper to taste

Mix it all together and enjoy. You might need to adjust the seasonings depending on how much liquid you use. This is best if you make it early and let it sit for a few days. It doesn’t need to go in the fridge.

Salad doesn’t have to be boring. You just need a little variety!

P.S. This will be my last blog post for AFF. The blog will stay live for several months to come, so you can access all of my previous posts forever and ever.

If you want to keep up with my writing, follow me on Medium.com, where I’m writing about insomnia, the power of silence, Prince, and… well, whatever the fork I want.

Peace out!

Samantha Pollack, Holistic Health Coach & owner of Insider Wellness
 
 
 
 

Samantha Pollack, Holistic Health Coach, Insider Wellness

I’ve been cooking for a long time.

My sister and I always had to help with dinner. (I was in charge of the salad.)

When I moved into my first apartment, I thought, “Crap! I don’t know how to cook anything. I’m gonna starve and/or eat Ramen noodles every day.”

My mom gave me a handwritten recipe book of all her family dinner staples. And you know what? I was halfway into my first batch of chicken picatta when I realized — I DO know how to cook. I’ve been learning for years.

Sneaky moms. 😉

Over the years, I’ve gotten better. Faster. And… lazier.

There are certain cooking-related tasks that are just a pain in the assss-paragus, if you know what I mean.

 

Here are my favorite, can’t-live-without-them, hacks for making cooking WAY more fun.

1. Not chopping onions. I decided a couple years ago, I would never chop an onion again. I cut them in half long ways, then slice into half moons. ALWAYS. If you need smaller pieces you just slice really really thin half moons.

2. Give your greens some air. You know how greens get all slimy and gross-smelling when they sit in the fridge for too long? It’s because they need to breathe. Poke a few holes in the plastic bag before storing in the fridge. The same works for sprouts.

3. Smash garlic in a dish towel. UGH. Peeling garlic is the worst. To save time (and get some crazy out of your system), wrap the entire clove in a dish towel, then bang the heck out of it against the counter. Open it up, and all the garlic will be separated from the peel. Save what you don’t need in a sealed container in the fridge. You’re welcome.

4. How to clean mushrooms the right way: Use a damp dish towel to gently wipe the dirt off each mushroom. Don’t run them under water; they’ll turn slimy. (Bonus tip: save the stems for chicken stock!)

5. The easiest chicken stock ever. Place a 3-4 pound chicken in your slow cooker, on a bed of celery, carrots, and onion (just rough cuts; no need to chop). Cook for 4-6 hours on low. Remove the chicken, carve, and eat, leaving the veggies, drippings, etc. in the pot. Return the carcass to the slow cooker, with 8 cups of water, some bonus vegetable scraps (like those mushroom stems), and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Cook on low for 8-12 hours. Cool, strain, and you’re done.

6. Speaking of chicken stock, add it to everything. If you have homemade stock on hand, add it to all your home-cooked dishes for a flavor boost. Add a splash to your stir fry. Steam your greens in it. Simmer beans with some onions and peppers for an easy weeknight meal. Cook your rice in half stock and half water. The applications are endless.

7. Only cook with wine you’d actually drink. Okay, so this isn’t really a hack, but wine is important. Don’t use weeks-old wine or $1.50 swill. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food.

8. Sharpen your knives at Ace hardware. Okay — those “sharpening sticks” that come with most knife sets? They’re actually called honers, and their job is to keep your knives true — as in, not crooked. To get them sharpened, let the professionals do it. Your local hardware store will do it for about $7 a knife. You’ll have to live without said knife for a few days though, so plan ahead.

9. No-peel applesauce. Most people don’t make their own applesauce because of all that peeling. Well, you can skip that step. Check out the recipe here.

10. How to separate leafy greens from their stalks: Hold the bottom of the stalk in your right hand. Grip the stem with your left hand, just above the right. In one quick movement, pull the entire stem, hard, with your right hand. The leaf should stay in your left hand, and the stem will remain in your right. This works best with curly kale and other firm greens, but it’ll work for all of them.

11. Frozen vegetables. Vegetables are frozen at peak freshness, so you’re not skimping on flavor or nutrition by going frozen. I always have a couple bags of broccoli, green beans, butternut squash, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Just stick to plain old veggies (none of these weird flavor explosions), and you’re good. Great on busy weeknights.

12. Blend your smoothies for a really long time. When you make a smoothie, does that smooth, creamy texture seem to elude you in favor of blueberry skins and tiny pieces of spinach that stick in your teeth? Blend your smoothie for at least one full minute, sometimes two, to eliminate even the tiniest chunks.

13. Clean your coffee pot with lemons, ice cubes, and salt. This is an old trick from the restaurant industry, and nothing works better. Cut a lemon in half. Squeeze the juice into your coffee pot, and throw the lemon halves in there too. Add ice cubes and kosher salt, and swirl around until the stain goes away. Then rinse really well, so your coffee doesn’t taste like a lemon drop. This will also work on tea stains or dingy soup pots.

Got some kitchen hacks of your own? Don’t be stingy — share!

Soda!

Now that you have an arsenal of soda alternatives, you’re well on your way to ditching it forever (just in time for summer)!

If that doesn’t sound so exciting to you, don’t worry — we’ve got you covered.

This four-week plan will wean you off gently and easily. It’s designed to minimize cravings and withdrawal, and if you stick to it, you could be soda-free in four short weeks!

WEEK ONE

We’ll start by cutting your soda intake by a third (roughly). You can do this in one of two ways:

  • Drop a serving completely (I’d start from the end of the day and work your way up), or…
  • Consume about 1/3 smaller serving each time.

Do this by diluting your soda with seltzer, or simply enjoying a smaller amount.

Also, before you consume each serving of soda, drink at least 8 ounces of water FIRST.

WEEK TWO

Reduce your intake by another third. Apply the same methods as week one.

If you’re only consuming one serving of soda a day, you can probably shorten this whole process by a week, or even two. You can only wean yourself so far until you run out of soda. 🙂

Continue to have your 8+ ounces of water before each serving of soda. And this week, add one glass of water to your overall intake.

WEEK THREE

Wherever you are, reduce your soda intake by half.

If you’re still consuming enough soda that diluting it makes sense, go for it.

Otherwise, you’re probably at the point where a 50% reduction equals dropping one of your servings completely.

If you’re already down to one serving per day, don’t reduce the soda itself; but do drop a day, so you’re only having it every other day.

Add a second additional glass of water to your day as well. The best way to ensure you’re consuming enough water is to start each day with a pint glass of water, before you do or drink anything else.

(And yup, still drinking water before soda. You may find that after the water, you no longer want the soda as much.)

WEEK FOUR

Here’s where we rip the band-aid off, y’all.

If you’re already down to every other day, switch to every two days. (Or, if you’re ready, try to go completely soda-free, treating your go-to soda beverage as just that — a special treat.)

Implement two — or three, or even four, if you’re ready — soda-free days this week. Have as many soda alternatives as you need to, but stay away from the hard stuff.

If, with the recent water additions, you’re still consuming less than 8 glasses of water a day, add one more glass to your day.

BEYOND

Continue to drink water first thing in the morning, and whenever you have a craving. Especially if you decide to give into that craving — drink water first.

Because soda is so addictive, it’s really easier to just institute a never-ever-drink-it policy. It’s pretty painless to maintain. Even at barbecues and restaurants, there’s always an alternative. Iced tea, seltzer, etc. Not hard to come by.

And unlike some more “extreme” dietary changes, like going gluten-free or dairy-free, kicking soda is a widely accepted positive change for your health. Meaning: lots of people are doing it, and your peers and loved ones will have an easier time supporting you.

And remember, ANY reduction in your soda intake is good.

Because it’s not about being perfect.

It’s about feeling better, all the time.

 

7 Things You Can Drink Instead of Soda — And Love

Iced Tea

If you drink soda on a regular basis, count yourself lucky — you are officially in possession of the most accessible, most bang-for-your buck, most inexpensive lifestyle change I know of.

Cutting back on your soda intake (and yes, diet soda counts here*) makes a massive impact on weight loss. It’s a one-two punch: cutting down a huge source of sugar, plus upping your hydration levels.

That combination leads to long-term benefits like:

  • Reduction in joint and muscle pain
  • Better mental clarity and cognitive function
  • Reduced food cravings
  • Appetite regulation

And even better news? You’ll start to see most of these changes within the first week of cutting back your soda intake.

*Attention diet soda guzzlers: The artificial sweeteners used in diet soda are one of the top contributors to sugar cravings. Which lead to increased consumption of things like baked goods and alcohol. Which leads to weight gain, and the opposite of all those bullet points you see above.

But giving up soda is no small feat. Both diet and regular sodas are formulated to be addictive, so you’re probably addicted to it. Plus, if your tastebuds are accustomed to that level of saccharine sweetness, everything else is going to taste super boring.

Try these 7 alternatives to soda to help you step down.

1. Cut your soda with seltzer water. This is the same approach I use for people who need to wean themselves off juice – start cutting it with increasing amounts of water. With soda, you can do this by adding seltzer water. Start with a 2:1 ratio of soda: seltzer. After a few days, go to 50/50. Gradually increase the amount of seltzer until you reach a 1:3 ratio.

2. Ginger beer. A great step-down from soda, because it still tastes more or less like ginger ale. Most ginger beers are sweetened with natural sugars (make sure to find one that is), but it has a greater proportion of ginger. This is my favorite ingredient for mocktails (see below).

3. Mock-mojito. In a tall glass, muddle together 3 basil leaves, 2 mint leaves, and a lime wedge. Pour in ginger beer to about the halfway mark, and fill the glass with ice. Give it a little stir, and finish with a splash of seltzer. Drink with a straw to avoid a mouthful of basil leaves.

4. Herbal tea spritzers. Brew an extra-strong batch of herbal tea. My favorites are chamomile, peppermint, and relax-y type blends. You could also use the fruity flavors and/or sweeten with a bit of honey if you like. Chill in the fridge. To make a spritzer, pour about 1/2 – 3/4 a glass of tea over ice, then finish with seltzer and a wedge of lemon.

5. Apple cider vinegar cocktail. Apple cider vinegar will directly help curb your soda cravings, because it alkalizes your body and satisfies that need for sweet. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar to a glass of sparkling water. Sweeten with honey if you prefer, and garnish with a lemon wedge. It’ll take you a couple days to get used to the taste, but once you do, you’ll start craving this as much as soda.

6. Flavored seltzer waters. (Noticing a theme here? We’re keeping the fizz.) I know from experience that die-hard soda fans kind of hate these drinks. But I have to include them, because there are so many flavors now, and they’re just such a better option. Keep trying different kinds until you find one you like.

7. Kombucha. This fermented, fizzy beverage has all the sweetness of soda, without all the crap. It’s so IN right now; you’ll find endless flavors to choose from at your local health food store. Plus you’ll get a hefty dose of probiotics, which aid digestion, support your immune system, and help curb cravings.

We get it — that afternoon craving for something cold and fizzy is powerful stuff. And nothing satisfies like an ice-cold can of Coke. (That used to be my preference, back when I was “using.”)

We’re not wagging fingers or waving the shame card in your face. We just want you to feel better! And we know (’cause it’s our job) that cutting back on your soda intake will have a direct, almost immediate impact on that.

Give one or two (or all) of these alternatives a try for ONE WEEK and see how you feel. And let us know about it!