Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lifestyle Challenge: Intensity

We're two weeks into our lifestyle challenge. If you're just hearing about it now and want to join, feel free to jump in -- it's never too late to start making little adjustments towards living a healthier lifestyle. You can read about the challenge details here.

For the first 2 weeks the focus has been to increase your water intake and decrease the intake of other beverages, particularly those with sugar (e.g. juices, sodas). Although we're starting a new focus, you should still continue to drink your minimum daily requirement of water.

The focus for the next 2 weeks will be on increasing the intensity of your activity. This doesn't have to be an aggressive increase - just a bit more to challenge yourself.

I've often found that my biggest accomplishments have been when I've made a 'mistake' -- I miscalculated the weight I put on the barbell and ended up lifting more than I thought I was; I got distracted while on the treadmill and ended up running for longer than I thought I could ... so many times it's our own belief that we may not be able to accomplish something that prevents us from trying.

If we don't try, we won't ever know how much we can do.

So, the challenge is to try and push yourself a bit more this week. Some suggestions of how to do this:

1) Add a few extra reps to your sets or even add an extra set to your workout routine
2) Add more resistance to your training -- increase the weight on your lifts, when stretching use a resistance band, hold that plank for a bit longer
3) Workout for longer -- if your step goal is 10,000/day, try to make it 10,500; if you go for a 30 minute walk, try to walk for 35 minutes
4) Speed it up -- if you walk, quicken your pace 30-second stretches; if you're doing walk/run intervals, try and increase your pace during your run

Since I don't think I'll have extra time this week, what I'll be focusing on is adding more resistance weight to my lifts and quickening my pace during both my walks and my jogs. I know that my plank pose holds suck, so I should probably work on increasing my hold time with those too.

Figure out what you can do to increase the intensity of your workouts (if you're not working out at all, use this challenge as a time to start, even if it's just 15 minutes a day). Make a plan and then starting from Monday put it in motion.

Here's a short article on 'The Afterburn Effect' -- describing how the body continues to burn calories following high intensity workouts.

Steps and Stops

I'm usually good at just getting on with things, but I find that I've spent most of this week 'talking to myself' and constantly having to stop, take a moment, evaluate (and reevaluate) my choices and almost scold myself into action. Okay, scold is a bit of a strong word. It's just that things this week just haven't fallen into place naturally like they usually do. It's strange.

I've spent the past 3 years getting into good habits, and for the most part they really are part of my lifestyle, but every once in a while I stumble. Perhaps it's about getting bored with my routine - eating and doing pretty much the same things day in and day out. Still, in the end I'm kinda just being a baby about it. The choice to do things differently and change things up is always in my hands. It basically boils down to two choices -- do something to change your routine or suck it up and just get on with it.

I've done a bit of both.

I've been doing a weekly step challenge through the FitBit app. I have to say it has really motivated me to get up and moving. I get my workouts in daily - whether it's at the gym or on the Jiu-Jitsu mats, but this step challenge has added a new dimension. The bit of friendly competition gets me to go out and take a walk when normally I would have just stuck to my basic workouts. It just goes to show, when you've got the right motivation, you will make time to keep moving! So I'm happy with my step count. I have a relatively low daily step goal (only 5,000 steps), but that's because Jiu-Jitsu doesn't involve any steps, but it sure is a workout! I'm happy that I've hit over 10,000 steps on all days this week except for 1 day. That's more than I've done in a while and I'm happy with that!

I've also been stepping away from the treadmill. The cold has kept me indoors. Yes, I know that compared to other places, it's not that cold in London, but for me it's cold. I chose not to confront the cold this time and just workout indoors. However, now that it's finally warming up (I would have never called single digit weather 'warming up'), I've been going for outdoor walks. The brisk air is refreshing, and the lovely natural scenery around me makes it much more enjoyable.

So my steps have been good this week. Despite craving sweets and bread - I don't normally crave bread so this is strange for me - I haven't given in, and I've been sticking to my veggies and proteins. Overall, the week has been going well -- now it's just about getting rid of that nagging voice in my head that keeps saying - Take a break, stay in bed. Be lazy and order in a pizza.

Will that voice ever disappear? I'm not sure -- in the meantime, I've got to keep my ultimate goals in mind and keep powering through.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Getting Ready for Another Week

The weekend definitely goes by way too quickly. After unwinding a bit and getting a chance to catch up with a friend from back home, I'm ready to tackle this upcoming week!

Now on to some grocery shopping and food prep.

This week's menu: 
Breakfasts: Açai, banana, and red grape smoothie
Lunches: Sautéed sweet potato and broccoli with spinach, avocado, and cucumber
Dinners: Monday & Tuesday - tuna loaf with salad, Wednesday - salmon with baked vegetables, Thursday - chicken and bell peppers, Friday - Stuffed baked sweet potato

This week's general plan:
Eating with a minimum of 4 1/2 hours in between meals.
No snacking.
Drinking 4 L of water/day.
Exercise: 2 strength training sessions, 3 cardio sessions, 3 Jiu-Jitsu sessions

The 'no snacking' will be my biggest challenge, but this is what I want to try to accomplish this week -- I won't know if I can do it unless I try!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Surviving the Weekend

Whenever I'm off a schedule, I find that it becomes harder to stick to my food routine. The pockets of empty time (in other words, the times when I'm procrastinating) leave open the chance to want to eat out of boredom.

The best habit I think I've cultivated is to not buy junk food at all. There are no snacks in the house - no biscuits, no crisps, no chocolates. Even if I really, really wanted to have something, there is nothing that I can easily reach for. Ironically, when I get intense cravings, I somehow still go to the cupboard and desperately look for some chocolate ... I know there's nothing there, but I still look.

My weekends used to be really unstructured, thus leaving open the temptation to just sit on the couch and watch TV ... which inevitably leads to wanting to munch on something.

The good thing is that my weekends have also become routine. For the most part that suits me fine. I know what I'm going to eat, when I'm going to eat, and what I'm going to do. That structure really helps me. It may seem boring to some, but the great things about setting a schedule for yourself is that you can change it up if you want to.

This all relates to points 2 and 3 in the Lifestyle challenge.
- Eat thoughtfully
- Choose your celebrations

Things come up. There are birthdays. There are parties. We have whims.

The thing that I want to work on most is to not let those instances throw me off track.

It all boils down to making decisions that I know will make me happy, both in the moment and in the future.

I went for a long period of time when I was saying 'no' to a lot of things. That actually suited me just fine. Even if others had a problem with it (and many, many people did), I put myself, my health, my happiness first.

I will still do that to this day, but now I'm a bit more relaxed. This doesn't mean I'll eat whatever I want without thinking about it. Instead, I make a thoughtful/conscious decision about my actions. Whatever I decide to do (workout, rest, eat, fast), it will be my choice, for my happiness - whether that means taking my own salad to a dinner party or sitting down and enjoying a piece of carrot cake with a cup of coffee. It's my choice.

Taking responsibility for this choice (and the consequences) is important. It's not about guilting yourself into feeling one way or another. It's about understanding that whatever we choose to do has a consequence.

Making these decisions requires practice and patience. It involves implementing some discipline into your decision making process. Maybe at this very moment, your desire to have a piece of chocolate cake is very strong ... but you've got to take a moment and ask yourself - do I really want it? Is eating this cake really going to make me happy? Does this action help me reach my overall goal? Will doing this action lead to regret in the future (whether it's 1 hour/1 week/1 month later)?

After answering those questions - you make a choice.

The ultimate goal is to work towards optimal health and overall happiness (at least those are my goals).  This doesn't stop just because the weekend is here.

As you gear up for the weekend, don't forget your overall goals. Find ways to create new routines and new habits that you enjoy and that also correspond to you achieving your goals.

When you start off, making such decisions takes time and requires quite a bit of thought and organization. However, if you stick with it, you'll see that it will soon become a habit, and making healthy choices will become second nature.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Five

This week has had its ups and downs. I've been doing well in terms of my food and exercise, but overall have just been feeling a bit down. I'm worried about my brother, and the distance from my family just feels terrible. At the same time, I'm trying not to let my emotions get the best of me. I feel like I spent most of this past week (actually the past 2 weeks) talking to myself - reminding myself that it's ok to feel down but that it doesn't have to control your whole day or lead to unhealthy habits. It's hard to keep having to go through that kind of self-talk. Part of me feels it's necessary because it's true. There's nothing I can do from here, so I might as well make the most of my day. Another part of me, however, just wants to wallow. The emotions are too strong. The helplessness is real. The frustration is undeniable.

That being said, keeping this week's meals simple and my routine consistent has helped me get through the week. I'm hoping that I'll be a bit more of engaged next week and everything I do won't feel like such a chore.

A few highlights from the week:

My breakfast for the week: A smoothie of açai, bananas, and red grapes -- delicious, but cold

My lunch for the week: sautéed butternut squash and broccoli, over raw spinach, with cucumber and avocado -- yummy and very filling! 

Instead of doing my cardio on a treadmill, I headed out to a park just behind my house and went for a lovely walk. Being outdoors was so refreshing. The sounds, sights, and smells were highly therapeutic! 

I had a couple of good weight training sessions this week. As much as I'd like to do more in the weight room, I think I've come up with a routine that I can stick to and maintain. It's better than nothing! 

The launch date for my Women's Self-Defense class has been set. I start on April 10th, and I'm so excited! I'm particularly looking forward to teaching the class with D. I hope that the class will make a difference to other women's lives as it did mine. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Break from the Kitchen

For the past 8 weeks, during the Whole Life Challenge, I spent an incredible amount of time in the kitchen. Although things fell into a bit of a routine and it was easy to prep for the week, there were some days when I just didn't feel like cooking. I wanted to take a break from the kitchen. It wasn't that I wanted to eat anything unhealthy, it's just that I did not want to cook. I wanted to eat without worrying whether or not the way the food was prepared and the ingredients in the meal were compliant with the challenge or not. More than that, I didn't want to worry about all the chopping, cooking, and cleaning that goes along with cooking!

As a result, I've decided to take a bit of a break from the kitchen this week. I have so many errands and tasks that I need to tackle this coming week that I think saving some cooking time will help me get some of that stuff done. That being said, I still went to do my weekly shop with my meal plan in hand, and I still spent my Sunday preparing my meals for the week. However, from today until the upcoming Sunday, I don't plan on doing any additional cooking ... but still eat healthily through the week.

While this doesn't mean I won't be spending any time in the kitchen, hopefully it will free up a few hours that I can use to be more productive elsewhere!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Gear Up for the Week!

Ahh Sunday -- the last day of the weekend, the day before the busy week begins again ... so tempting to just stay curled up in bed and relax.

Ya right. That's not how Sunday works for me. As tempting as the above scenario sounds, my busy Sunday routine has actually become something I enjoy. It's mainly because I can actually get things prepared for the upcoming week in a relaxed manner. I know that once the week begins, things come up. I run out of time. I get thrown off track. I get flustered ... add to that being unprepared with my menu/meals for the weak and you'll soon find me dialing for a takeaway ... and if that happens on a Monday, it can definitely be hard to stop that trend for the rest of the week.

Instead, I've made Sunday my prep day. It definitely takes up time, and it is a lot of work, but once the week starts I'm always thankful that I took a few hours on Sunday to set myself up for a successful week ahead.

My Sundays are:
8:30 a.m. light breakfast + menu planning for the week
10:30 a.m. Jiu-Jitsu
1:30 p.m. grocery shopping for the week
2:00 p.m. lunch
3:30 p.m. food prep

I'm usually done with my food prep by 6:00 p.m., after which I can just relax and be happy that my meals for the upcoming work week are sorted.

Things I usually prepare on a Sunday - all the recipes below are gluten-free, sugar-free, preservative-free!

Banana muffins
Granola to have with organic Greek yogurt
Quinoa and chicken salad (recipe coming soon)
Lemon 'cake' (recipe coming soon)

Although I don't prepare my dinners for the week in advance, having my menu set before I head to the supermarket ensures I buy exactly what I need for my meals for the week. Nothing extra!