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The Ultimate Summer Skin Care Guide

Summer Skin Care

A regular skin care regimen is indulgent (but healthy). It’s calming (but invigorating). It’s enjoyable, with huge payoffs (but…nothing).

 

If you’re not practicing good skin care, you are seriously missing out. Of all the things I do for my health, this is my very favorite.

 

In the summer, we think more about our skin, because we see more of it. But the truth is, skincare should be a year-round activity. And while there are some specific seasonal factors to consider, your baseline regimen won’t vary that much.

 

First of all, it’s super important to stay hydrated (obviously). But since you sweat more, you also need to mind your electrolytes. Don’t go crazy with sugar-laden sports drinks; a little coconut water should suffice.

 

You also need to walk the line between healthy sun exposure, and slathering your skin in chemicals. I find this to be particularly challenging, since I was raised by a bunch of Armenian ladies who fried themselves in baby oil every summer, proudly saying things like, “Look at you! You’re brown as a nut!”

 

Here’s what I’ve figured out about sun care.

 

There ARE some natural suncsreens out there. Alba 30 SPF is what my esthetician recommends. And even though 30 seems a little extreme for this olive-skinned sun worshipper, I’m pretty happy with it. Below is a comprehensive guide to the best natural sunscreens.

 

Environmental Working Group (EWG) 2015 Guide to Sunscreens

 

The deal with aloe. So, aloe gel can help with sunburns, but post-sunbathing I like to moisturize with coconut oil. It seems to do a better job soothing my skin, and it lasts longer. Also, aloe gel gets sticky when it dries. Ick.

 

Aloe is actually amazing – in its pure form. It really does help with burns and cuts, and as seen above, is even good to drink. I’m really not sure about the bottled aloe gel products. By all accounts, they’re good, but the added alcohol just throws me.

 

Vitamin D. Okay, so we know we can get vitamin D from the sun. Your body actually has to manufacture vitamin D out of the rays you soak in. Most of us know by now that we’re pathetically deficient in vitamin D as a population. But/and, you only absorb sufficient amounts of sunshine at midday (10-2), in warm climates. If you live in a temperate climate, you’re pretty much screwed.

 

Then there’s the ozone layer, or lack thereof. You might be getting a side of melanoma with your vitamin D, which nobody wants. But it is good for you to get some natural exposure to the sun.

 

My solution is to spend small chunks of time, sunscreen-free, in full sun, as often as possible. Which I admit won’t work for everyone (I’m thinking of my pale best friend, who burns just by thinking about the sun.)

 

I also recommend a year-round, daily vitamin D supplement. Of course, in the summer months you can lower the dosage significantly, but the rest of the year you should shoot for anywhere from 2,000-5,000 IU per day. (Your Western doctor’s recommendation will be a lot lower than a naturopath’s.)
I actually sell a really good, highly absorbable D vitamin. You can find it here.

 

Bug Spray Alternatives

 

What’s worse – DEET, or 10,000 mosquito bites every time you step outside? Tough call. But since the bugs love me so much, I need something.

 

Cedar oil really helps. I don’t know why, but it works. You need to reapply it often though.

 

Most outdoor stores, and probably Whole Foods, have natural insect repellant formulas. They stink, they’re more expensive, and you go through it a lot faster, but they work. The only downside is that the strong smell can also work as a boyfriend repellant. Just do a Google search for ‘natural bug repellant.’

 

Have any skin care secrets, or questions about your skin? Share them in the comments below!

 

Originally published at thenotmom.com.

Yoga: A User’s Manual

We’ve been on a yoga kick lately! We’ve already covered the basics, and why you should try it.

Today we’re going to cover everything you need to start a yoga practice – even if you’ve never done it before.

What You Need

Most yoga studios and gyms (including ours) already have all the props you need. We recommend using their stuff until you figure out which things you want for yourself. You don’t need shoes, super supportive sports bras, or fancy workout gear. All you need is listed below.

A mat. Yoga mats come in different thicknesses and textures. A basic, $20 mat from Target will serve you pretty well for most yoga classes. Some mats have a stickier texture, that allows for a stronger grip. This is what the hot yogis use.

A block or blocks. Yoga blocks help you get into poses comfortably. If you can’t touch your toes, place your hands on a yoga block in front of you. This way you still get the benefit of the pose without hurting yourself. I like to have two blocks on hand, but most of the time you can get by with one.

A strap. A yoga strap is like a giant belt. It can be clasped into a loop or used as one long strap. Again, it’s an alignment tool. It helps you get into positions you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

Comfortable, stretchy clothes. There’s a reason people like to wear yoga pants everywhere. They cling to your body, but are stretchy enough to accommodate all the movements required in a yoga class – without falling off. I personally prefer pants to shorts, and tanks to t-shirts. You might need to experiment a little with different attire.

Patience and an open mind. The first time you do yoga, it feels ridiculous and/or impossible. It’s so important to leave judgement at the door – especially your judgement of yourself. Just listen and do your best, and keep coming back. The real benefits of yoga take a few months to manifest.

Glossary of Yoga Terms

This is just a small collection of the most common yoga terms you may encounter in a class or on a schedule. The idea is to alleviate that I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on feeling.

Hatha yoga is the basic, breathing, flowing, original yoga.

Vinyasa refers to the flow. You synchronize movements with your inhales and exhales in a continuous, flowing sequence.

Mudra: A hand position, like the tips of your index fingers & thumbs touching, or the hands in prayer position.

Anjali mudra: Hands in prayer position.

Prana: Energy, life force, chi.

Pranayama is breathing work. There are hundreds of different breathing exercises. You’ll undoubtedly practice a few in yoga class.

Ujjayi (OOO-jai-ee) breath is a deep, slow breath through the nose. You open the throat during both inhale and exhale, creating a whispery, ocean-like sound with each breath.

Namaste. Surely you’ve heard this before. It most closely translates to: The light within me bows to the light within you. Usually said at the end of class with hands in prayer position.

Don’t forget about our Therapeutic Yoga Info Session, this Thursday at 6pm!

The Non Woo-Woo Yoga Primer, Part II

Last week, I mostly focused on why you should give yoga a chance, especially if you’ve had a bad experience that put you off.

This week, I thought I’d explain the basics of yoga – where it comes from, what it’s all about, and how it benefits your body – from the very down-to-earth perspective of a regular person (me).

Disclaimer: The information in this article summarizes what I’ve gleaned from going to lots and lots of yoga classes. Any inaccuracy or lack of clarity is my own.

Where it Comes From

Yoga is an ancient meditation tool that originates in India. In its pure form, the purpose of yoga was NOT to build core strength, correct posture, or make you sweat. It was a moving meditation. The practice of syncing movement with breath, or holding a physically uncomfortable posture for a really long time, quiets the mind and helps the practitioner stay present.

What it Really Is

What we think of today as “yoga” – the flowing movements, the pretzel poses – is only one aspect of the true, original practice. There are actually Eight Limbs of Yoga. (They have a Sanskrit name too, but I forgot it.) The moving practice is just one of the limbs.

What we practice in modern, Western yoga (mostly), are the Asanas (body postures) and Pranayama (breathing exercises). The other limbs address things like morality, compassion, friendliness, self awareness, and devotion – and there’s an equally cool-sounding Sanskrit name for each one. Ancient yoga is a holistic blend of all these aspects.

What Happens in a Yoga Class

Let’s take your basic, beginner yoga class. You’ll start by talking – the instructor will want to know if you’ve ever done yoga before, and if you have any injuries or other physical concerns.  Most classes start with some sort of meditation – sitting or standing, focusing on your inhales and exhales. The instructor guides you through this.

Next, you may do Sun Salutations. This is a flowing sequence of poses that line up with the breath, and take the spine through its full range of motion. There are many different variations on this. You’ll start out slowly, taking time to understand the alignment and desired position for each component of the Sun Salutation. There’s forward bend, downward dog, high push up (like a plank), low push-up (chaturanga), and some others.

After that, you may move into some Warrior poses – these are my favorite. After your standing practice is done, you’ll do several seated and/or reclining poses. Bridge is usually a staple in any beginner class. Then you get to do your final rest – savasana, corpse pose. This is when you just lie there on the floor and relax. It rules.

The Terminology

Some instructors use only the English names for poses: “downward dog,” “tree pose,” “corpse pose.” Others use the Sanskrit names: adho mukha svasana, virksasana, savasana.

(Here’s a trick: the word asana (AH-sah-nah) means “body posture.” Every yoga pose is something-asana.)

Most instructors use a blend of both. My favorite teachers call their poses in both languages. This is great, because there are a lot of different English names for the same pose, but only one Sanskrit name. Plus, I love the sound of Sanskrit.

What Else You Need to Know

It’s important to understand that your yoga practice is for YOU and you alone. If your muscles are tight and your joints crackle and pop, if you can barely bend over halfway while everyone else is a jackknife, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU SUCK AT YOGA.

It’s hard to get your head around this in today’s culture of achievement and competitiveness. But there’s no such thing as being “good” or “bad” at yoga. The very fact that you’re doing it, IS the success. The whole point of yoga is to practice slowing down your mind and tuning into what your body is doing (or, in some cases, NOT doing.)

Watch out for instructors who imply that yoga poses have a goal – to touch your nose to your shins in forward bend, for example. In my humble (but strong) opinion, this inadvertently creates a sense of failure and discouragement in students who might be insecure enough about their budding yoga practice. And anyway it’s not true.

Your goal, in every single yoga pose you do, is to get the most benefit out of that pose. If you’re forcing yourself into a backbend that makes your lower back spasm – not benefiting. Even if everyone else is doing it.

It takes a lot of patience, and a really great instructor, to figure out the little modifications and adjustments to customize your practice. But when you get it right? Oooooohhhh, it’s sweet.

If your interest is peaked, check out our Therapeutic Yoga Info Session, on June 4th at 6pm. Our clinically trained instructors will be there to answer any questions you have.

True confession: When they asked me to write a post about yoga, my first move was to ask one of the yoga instructors to do it for me. That’s who should tell you about the benefits of yoga, right? The people who’ve devoted their lives and livelihoods to this stuff.

And while you CAN look forward to some yoga-rific posts from one of our therapeutic yoga practitioners in the future, today, you’re stuck with me.

After some hemming, hawing, and a little bit of math, I had a thought:  I’ve been practicing yoga for ELEVEN YEARS, and have tried several different styles. I have integrated a regular yoga practice into a well-rounded fitness regimen that includes strength training, cardio, and Gx4 classes. Maybe I have something to say about it after all.

You’re not into yoga.

If yoga seems intimidating and weird to you, you’re not alone. From an outsider’s perspective, People Who Do Yoga can seem impossibly flexible, annoyingly at peace with the Universe, and definitely drunk on some woo-woo kool-aid. (For all I know, I might seem this way to some of you. Sorry.)

It’s hard to understand something that’s new and foreign, that involves a bunch of crazy-patterned tights and body positions you could never imagine yourself doing (or enjoying.) Plus, anything as wildly popular as yoga tends to foster some suspicion and resistance. It seems like a fad, a corporatized gimmick, a racket, a cult.

The Westernization of yoga has certainly contributed to all of this. Our 21st-Century American selves have trouble understanding a physical activity that’s not about burning calories or losing weight. We have trouble trusting an “exercise” whose only purpose is to calm us down.

Before I move on, I want to make one thing clear: yoga, like anything else, is not for everyone. Some people just don’t dig it, and that’s fine. But there are a vast number of folks who don’t think they’d like it, or who had one bad experience, and have closed their minds to the possibility that yoga could help them. I’m talking to YOU.

…or ARE you?

Number one thing to understand: Saying you’re not into yoga is like saying you’re not eating carbs. You could mean jelly beans or raspberries, brown rice or a banana nut muffin. Each one of those foods is a completely different experience, with different effects on your body. The word “carbs” is kind of meaningless. It’s too vague and general, and not reflective of all the different varieties and possibilities.

Same goes for yoga. There are at least ten different styles I can think of off the top of my head, and I’m just a student in a class. There’s Ashtanga, a fast-moving practice that fosters power and strength, or Yin Yoga, which holds each pose for several minutes and encourages deep relaxation. There’s Vinyasa, a flowing practice that connects movement with breath, and there’s Bikram, where participants repeat the same 26-movement sequence every time… in a 104° room.

Hang in there. I have a point.

So how do you know which style to try? How can you ensure you won’t end up the only baby boomer in a class full of college kids, scratching your bum while everyone else does an effortless headstand?

I get it. Delving into the world of yoga is overwhelming. To start, all you need to do is ask questions. Do research. And if you’re feeling adventurous, just try any class with the word “beginner” in the title.

Or, you can join us for a Therapeutic Yoga Info Session on Thursday, June 4th at 6pm.

As a seasoned practitioner, I’m super excited about this program. I’ve never seen a more inviting, accessible style of yoga. I love the concept of integrating yoga with the principles of physical therapy and functional movement. It takes yoga down from the lofty, woo-woo rafters, and delivers it to your grandma with arthritis, your uncle who’s 150 pounds overweight, your tight-as-the-Tin-Man hips and shoulders.

If you’ve never tried yoga, or have a bad taste in your mouth from a previous experience, you should definitely check this out. Our yoga program is the perfect bridge from Total Beginner to Regular Practitioner. No one will judge you, and you don’t even have to wear crazy tights.

Again, that’s Thursday, June 4th at 6pm. You can reserve your spot HERE. 

And now, it just so happens, I’m off to a yoga class.

 

Six Things You Can Learn From A/T Thru Hikers

AFF-alachian Trail Challenge Spring 2015

The 2nd Annual Great AFF-alachian Trail Race is still going strong. Yes, we have some go-getters who finished the Trail in three weeks. But there are still five weeks to go, and lots of miles to complete!

If you’re feeling discouraged, take heart from these lessons learned from some bona fide thru hikers (on the actual Appalachian Trail).

1. Stay present today. It takes at least six months to hike the 2,181 mile trail. That means on any given day, you can’t stress about how far you still have to go – or you’d have a pretty stressful six months. Each day, you do what’s in front of you. You climb that hill. You take in this view. You talk to this smelly stranger. Apply this to your daily workouts, and not only will you enjoy them more, you’ll cultivate more peace of mind throughout your life.

2. Rest when you need it. Walking an average of 12 miles a day, you run into some problems. Blisters. Callouses. Sore toes, knees, and ankles. Thru-hikers take a rest day if and when they need it (it’s called a “zero day.”)

3. Showers are overrated. Any thru-hiker would tell you, they’d love to be able to shower more often. But the fact is, Americans tend to overwash themselves. Folks who have done long-term work overseas (like the Peace Corps) or outdoor traveling (like the A/T) with limited access to showers tend to shower less overall upon their return. If you’ve done a grueling workout or are covered in dirt from the garden, sure. But you don’t need to shower every day if you’ve just been sitting around. It depletes your skin and hair of their natural oils, and can exacerbate skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

4. Take some time in nature. The natural world is your grounding center. In this age of technology, constant connection, and unparalleled stress, it’s the only thing that’s really real – and you’re still a part of it. Taking five minutes every day to be in nature is calming, healing, and  centering. (More is better, but take what you can get.)

5. Get the right gear. Thru hikers live and die by the quality of their stuff. Proper shoes are an absolute must if you’re walking 2,181 miles, right? Same goes for packs, sleeping bags, water filtration systems, etc. Translate this to everyday life: the right gear supports your body to do whatever it is you do at your best, without injuring yourself. If this means getting better shoes to stand in all day, or an ergonomic desk to sit at, or a purse that doesn’t kill your shoulder….do it!

6. Setting & achieving a big goal is a major self-esteem booster. You don’t have to run a marathon or hike the entire A/T. (Who has that kind of time?) If you struggle with low self image, start setting small goals, and throw a big party for yourself every time you succeed. Make the bed 30 days in a row. Or walk a mile every day. Little by little, you can work up to a bigger, long-term goal, like your first race, or a big creative project. Just remember to keep the small goals in place, as “mile markers” for the larger one.

 

Can you think of any other ones? Share them in the comments below!

Five Things to Try if You’re Allergic to Spring

 

Little story: When I first moved to Asheville from Boston, it was like a nature bomb went off and littered my world with dandelions, ferns, poison ivy, and kudzu. (And bugs.)

 

Mostly, I loved it. The air smelled so clean! I could see green everywhere I looked! And since I moved in the fall, I got to skip most of the oppressive summer heat.

 

The following spring, though, I had a wicked sore throat that lasted for weeks, along with post-nasal drip and what felt like a low-grade fever.

 

Honestly, it felt like strep throat, so I went to urgent care for a culture. The doctor was very sweet, and not condescending at all when she delivered my diagnosis: allergies.

 

Booooo.

 

Thankfully, my allergies have gotten better every year as I acclimate to the nature extravaganza of Western North Carolina. But that year, I felt like crap for pretty much the entire spring season. And living here, I’ve met more and more people with downright debilitating seasonal allergies. Case in point: as I sit here writing this, my man is home taking a sick day because of HIS allergies.

 

If you’re allergic to spring, it can be a real bummer. You miss out on the most beautiful, hopeful time of year. The burst of outdoor activity, the excitement of getting your garden in gear, the first picnics and barbecues – all come with a hefty price.

 

Because a) I’m in the holistic health profession, and we know these things, and b) I live in a place where 90% of the residents have pretty bad allergies and have therefore tried lots of remedies, I’ve come across some interesting prevention techniques. Turns out, there’s also a lot about allergies that’s misunderstood.

 

A word on medication: There are lots of natural remedies to prevent allergies, true. And something like Benadryl is undesirable, for obvious reasons. I haven’t found any major negatives to taking Loratadine (Claritin), although I’m sure somebody has. My approach is, do your best with natural interventions first, and then take something if you need to. Don’t be a hero.

 

Here are some fun facts you might not know about your seasonal allergies:

 

  1. Sinus pain, itchy eyes, and sneezing are not the only symptoms associated with allergies. Body aches, sluggishness, and depression are also part of the package.

 

  1. Most natural remedies (nettle tea, local honey) are for prevention of seasonal allergies – which means you need to ingest them consistently over a period of time. All the local honey in Bee Town won’t help you if you’re already sneezing your face off.

 

  1. Really bad seasonal allergies can be a sign of food sensitivity. Your body has an allergy “threshold” – a certain amount of triggers it can withstand before you start experiencing symptoms. If you have an undiscovered food sensitivity, you could be maxing out your threshold before spring even gets here.

 

But if you don’t want to take Claritin all day and Benadryl all night, try some or all of these natural approaches first.

 

  1. Try acupuncture. I kid you not: EVERY SINGLE PERSON I know who’s tried acupuncture for their seasonal allergies has experienced relief. Far be it from me to explain Chinese medicine to you – I just know it works. Most people do well with just a few treatments.

 

  1. Do a cleanse or elimination diet. The most common food sensitivities are wheat/gluten, corn, dairy, soy, and eggs. In second place, shellfish, strawberries, citrus, and chocolate (I know, how awful.) I know this is not easy, but again, I can think of at least ten people who’ve experienced fewer allergy symptoms after a 3-week elimination.

How to do it: You can try one food at a time, but I think it’s better to do them all at once. Eliminate these foods for three full weeks (no cheating), and then reintroduce them methodically, one by one, taking note of your reactions.

 

  1. Drink the nettle tea. Here’s how you REALLY do it. Find bulk nettle (I’ve seen this at Whole Foods). Steep two tablespoons in a quart of fresh, filtered water, for at least an hour. (I like to do this in the sun, but the stovetop works too.) Strain, then drink throughout the day. This works best if you do it every day.

 

  1. Use a neti pot. You can find these everywhere now, including CVS and other conventional pharmacies. Follow the instructions and rinse your nasal passage with a sterile saline solution. The first time you do this, it’s weird. But it really helps alleviate acute sinus congestion. Do it first thing in the morning, and right before bed.

 

  1. Try homeopathics. Homeopathy is controversial and not very well understood in the Western world. It’s based on the principle that just a small amount of medication will prompt the immune system to take appropriate action. The treatments are dilute, and may take a few days to take effect. The main rules when taking homeopathics: no mint (this includes your toothpaste & dental floss), chocolate, or caffeine. These substances interfere with the effectiveness of the remedy.

 

To find a product, visit a natural health-foods store with a supplement section and talk to one of the salespeople. Or go to Viatacost.com and search “homeopathic allergy remedy.”

 

Have you tried any of these approaches? Did you discover something new to try? Tell me about it in the comments!

Vote for AFF!

It’s that time again – the ballots are open for the Mt. Xpress’ Best of WNC.

There have been some changes. For one thing, every category is write-in this year. We’re not sure what that means for the winners, but it will definitely make the voting process faster. You just vote for what you want! As long as you vote for 30 things, you’re good!

Vote for Asheville Family Fitness in the following categories:

  • Gym/place to work out
  • Personal Trainer (Ross – we know Trish is the best too; we just want everyone to vote for the same person to stack the odds)
  • Physical Therapy
  • Swim lessons
  • Wellness center
  • Fitness classes

We’re also giving back! Sam is compiling a list of all our members’ businesses, so we can use our community power to help each other stand out.

If you want to participate, send your business name & category to skpollack@gmail.com by FRIDAY, APRIL 17th. On Monday, you’ll receive an email with everyone’s info. Then…vote baby vote!

Let’s DO THIS.

Vote for us Best of WNC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Steady State Cardio is Still Good For You

Fitness blogs (including this one) are always touting the benefits of heavier weights, high intensity interval workouts, and myofascial release (a.k.a. foam rolling).

It seems our old friend – the long, steady-paced cardio workout – has fallen out of favor. Which is bad news for all you book-reading elliptical lovers.

While it’s true that steady-state cardio alone is not enough to achieve most fitness goals, that doesn’t mean it’s a total waste of time.

Before we get into the benefits, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

Steady state cardio refers to a continuous cardio session (anywhere from 15 minutes for beginners, to 2 hours or longer distance runs), during which you maintain a consistent, manageable pace the entire time. Usually your heart rate stays around 60-70% of your max heart rate. In realistic terms, you could carry on a conversation the whole time, albeit a kind of breathy one.

The benefits of steady-state cardio

  • It’s easier on the joints than high intensity training.
  • It’s essential as a recovery from heavy weight lifting and pavement-pounding intervals.
  • Improves energy levels, mental focus, and mood.
  • Sweating helps your body release toxins and makes your skin look pretty (as long as you’re well hydrated.)
  • It’s easier to stick with a routine that’s not so hard on your body – you’ll see and feel gradual progress without risk of injury or overdoing it.
  • You’ll burn calories and improve cardiovascular function.

How to do it

It’s easy! (Which is why so many gym-goers default to this type of workout.) All you do is hop on a machine and stay there for a chunk of time. If you’re just starting out, try for 15 minutes. As you build up your endurance, increase the duration until you can do 45 – 60 minutes.

If you’re outside, it’s easier to do longer workouts. You can kill two hours in the woods without even noticing.

Be sure to set a pace that’s challenging – if you’re just strolling like you’re at the mall, it’s not going to accomplish much. We like the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. On a scale of 1 – 5, how hard are you working? You want your cardio workouts to be between 3 and 4.

Mix and match

You don’t have to do the same activity for 45 minutes – you can break it up! Ten minutes on the rower, 15 on the treadmill, and 20 on the bike works great, with the added benefit of not being so boring.

At AFF, our Gx classes mostly focus on functional movement and strength. Because we’re so passionate about this type of workout (we really do love it), it’s easy to forget about the humble cardio workout. Our main motivation behind this spring’s AFF-alachian Trail Challenge was to encourage you to do more cardio.

Haven’t signed up for the Challenge yet? It’s not too late! Just stop by the front desk and we’ll make it happen. Teams are already off to a promising start!

 

Boost Your Motivation with a Fitness Challenge

Want to rocket-launch yourself out of a fitness rut? Need a stronger core, but can’t seem to stay consistent? Like winning stuff?

 

A fitness challenge can solve all your problems. Well, all your exercise-related problems. It can’t pay your taxes or clean your bathroom.

 

Here’s how it works: You find a challenge, or you invent one. Some examples (a few of which I just invented, right now):

 

Plank Challenge: Do a plank every day, starting with 20 seconds and increasing by 10 seconds every day.

 

Squat Challenge: Every day, do 50 squats. Or 100. Or you could pyramid, starting with 20, working up to 100, then back down to 20. As the reps increase, you can spread the squats out in sets throughout the day.

 

Push-up Challenge: Same as squat challenge. You get the idea.

 

50-mile Challenge: Attempt to walk or run 50 miles in 30 days. If you’re a longer-distance runner, you can change the number to suit your fitness level.

 

Once you choose your challenge, schedule it. Recruit friends or coworkers to do it with you. Tell everyone you know. Brag about it on facebook. Take pictures every day. Make yourself a big calendar and check off every day as you complete your activity.

 

Here’s why it works:

 

Structure, structure, structure. A focused, time-sensitive plan eliminates the distraction of decision-making, so you can focus on gettin’ ‘er done.

 

Consistency. Doing the same thing every day, you’ll really notice your progress. And progress is exciting and motivating. As you see yourself get stronger, faster, and your endurance goes up, you’ll

 

Competition. Nothing like a healthy competitive spirit to keep you motivated. Fitness challenges are awesome, because you mostly compete against yourself, and/or the clock. Plus you can tailor them completely to your fitness level, personal preference, and schedule. You don’t have to impose someone else’s cookie-cutter plan on your unique lifestyle.

 

This spring, we’re encouraging EVERYONE to try a fitness challenge! And hey, what a coincidence – we’ve got one of our own starting on April 13th. Stay tuned!

Four Healthy Slow-Cooker Recipes

It’s winter’s last gasp! And I’ve got four slow-cooker recipes to help tide you over.

 

The slow-cooker is one of my absolute favorite kitchen tools. Just dump a bunch of food in there and push “on.” Go to bed, or to work, and when you get home/wake up, you’ve got a complete, nutritious meal waiting for you, that only dirtied one dish!

 

If you don’t have a slow-cooker, a) You should seriously get one – they even make single-serving models! And b) You could do all these dishes on the stovetop. They won’t take as long, but require a lot more attention. Stovetop instructions included below.

 

Hang in there, kids. No winter lasts forever…not even in Boston.

 

 1. Lamb Stew

I’m Armenian (by half), and Armenians love lamb. If you don’t like it, I have two things to say:

  • Substitute beef in this dish and it will still be awesome.
  • Most people who “don’t like lamb” have not had properly butchered or prepared lamb. When overcooked, it gets really stringy and the gamey flavor takes over. Lamb should be served medium-rare, always. Unless you’re slow-cooking it, like in this stew. It’ll just fall apart (yum). This is an excellent “gateway to lamb” dish.

Serves 6, technically, but last time I made it my man and I polished it off in two sittings.

  • 1 lb. lamb, kebab cut
  • 2 T quinoa flour
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 turnips, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 6 C chicken stock (or 1 qt. + 2 C water)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, whole
  • Handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In the bottom of your slow cooker, toss lamb in flour until well coated.

Place all the vegetables on top of the meat. Add stock, rosemary, bay leaves, and salt.

Cook for 6-8 hours in the slow cooker. Add parsley and black pepper about 10 minutes before serving. Be sure to fish out the bay leaves and rosemary stalks.

Stovetop instructions: Proceed as above, but sear the floured lamb before adding the veggies and stock to the pot. Cook on low for two hours.

 

2. Overnight Oats

Problem #1: Hot breakfasts take too long to prepare on busy work mornings.

Problem #2: Cold smoothies are deeply unappealing on cold, snowy days. And granola bars, muffins, and other convenience foods are unsatisfying and unhealthy.

How ‘bout this: Wake up to a house filled with the aroma of apple cinnamon oats, and BOOM! Breakfast is ready.

Serves 4. You can store leftovers in the fridge for up to five days.

  • 3/4 C steel-cut oats
  • 4 C unsweetened hemp milk
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, chopped and separated
  • ¼ C walnuts, chopped
  • 1 T honey (optional)
  • 1 T grass-fed butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • Pinch salt
  • Splash of lemon juice

Set one of the chopped apples aside, spritz with lemon juice and store in the fridge.

Place everything else in slow cooker and stir. Cook on low for 8 hours. Stir before serving, and add some remaining chopped apples and a few fresh chopped nuts.

Stovetop instructions: Get everything ready the night before and soak in a pot overnight. In the morning, cook on low for 30 minutes or until oats are cooked through and mixture has thickened.

 

3. Turkey Chili

I still like making chili on the stovetop, but when I have a busy week ahead, this recipe is a great go-to. It makes plenty of leftovers, which you can pre-portion and freeze for future busy weeks.

Serves: 4

  • 3/4 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, cut into rounds
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 hot pepper of choice, chopped (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 5 T chili powder
  • 2 T cumin
  • 2 tsp chipotle powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Drizzle of olive oil

Brown the turkey in a skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, cut and chop all your veggies.

Place the turkey at the bottom of your slow cooker reservoir and pile all the veggies on top. Add seasonings, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil and stir to combine.

Cook on high for 4-6 hours, or on low for 8-10 hours. Adjust seasonings to taste before serving. (Warning: your house will smell like chili for two days.)

Stovetop instructions here.

 

4. Slow Cooker Applesauce

 

Admittedly, this recipe is best in the fall, with fresh, local apples. On the other hand, the best way to eat out-of-season apples grown a thousand miles away? Cook the snot out of them and purée.

Makes a half gallon of applesauce.

  • About 12 apples, any variety – my favorite for this recipe are Rome apples
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger (optional)

Core apples and cut into chunks. Don’t bother peeling them.

Place in slow cooker with cinnamon sticks and lemon juice. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. (Enjoy the aroma!)

Fish out cinnamon sticks, and scoop apples into a blender or food processor, blending in batches until smooth. You can leave it chunky if you like, but I find the skins to be a bit troublesome that way.

Taste, and add cinnamon and ginger if you like.

Serving ideas: Mix into hot cereal. Stir in some almond butter and top with granola. Add to yogurt. Reheat for a warming dessert or breakfast.

Stovetop instructions: Same, except add a little water to the bottom of the pot. Cook low and slow for about three hours. Keep an eye on the heat for the first hour or so – you don’t want the apples to burn.