Banana Berry Baked Oatmeal

platedbananaoat

I’m often deeply suspicious of recipes that come from figure competitors and bodybuilders: I assume that they’ve been deprived of rich, decadent food for long enough that they’ll think damn near anything with a little sweetness tastes good.

Fake ice cream like Arctic Zero holds no appeal to me. I’d rather have really glorious dessert once in awhile than a steady stream of protein-enriched Frankendesserts that I blew up in my microwave. Mug cakes are almost always mind-blowingly terrible.

But when I stumbled upon this breakfast idea from Blogilates, my curiosity was piqued. Those of us who are trying to maximize protein intake on relatively few calories have learned to embrace egg whites and protein powder. There are only so many things you can do with them before you get bored.

However, I hadn’t tried baked oats (“proats”?) As it turns out, this recipe is really delicious. Plus for relatively few calories, you get a LOT of food! Along with a few other minor tweaks, I added bananas to my version – just a half banana adds sweetness and moisture. Give this one a go and let me know what you think.

bakedbananaoatmealpanRecipe – Banana Berry Baked Oats
Ingredients:
1 cup water
1/2 cup dry old-fashioned oats
1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 packet Truvia (optional)
pinch of salt
1/8 tsp. baking powder
splash of vanilla
3 egg whites
1/2 cup frozen mixed berries (I used the mix from Costco)
1/2 small banana, thinly sliced
sprinkle of cinnamon

Instructions: 
Preheat oven to 350F.

Whisk your egg whites in a medium bowl first so they don’t get clumpy and weird in your oats. Add in everything else  and pour into a small baking dish. I used an 8×8 pan. Bake 30 minutes and then devour before you can complete taking Instagram pictures. Nom nom nom.

bananaberrywheynew

10 Ways to Find Time for Fitness

timeFinding it hard to squeeze in time for working out? You’re not alone. Lack of time is the biggest barrier to working out that I hear. Everyone is busy. But I have a few solutions for you if you’re game for reading on for just a couple of minutes: a few are tricks. A few are “hacks”. And a few require a bit of a shift in thinking.

Sometimes we legitimately don’t have the time for getting in our workouts. But often, the underlying reasons are more about issues like motivation, excitement, and confidence. What are your real barriers? Start cracking them and you may find that more time appears. Here are a few tips that help you break through your own fitness obstacles.

hitsnooze1. Find the time of day that fits you best. If you commit to early morning sessions and find that you constantly skip your workout, it may be worth considering a new time of day for your sweat session. When I tried to join the “5 a.m. crew” I ended up being less consistent with my workouts. I eventually realized that I do better later in the day, but also have the option to choose a later time.

The early bird really does catch the worm: if you’re a person who thrives on early morning exercise, chances are that you’re less likely to skip workouts. That’s because you get your workout in before anything else unexpected can happen in the day to throw you off schedule. However, if you’re just not a morning person, trying to force this will sometimes backfire.

Tip for trying an early workout: if you’re unsure if the early bird workout is for you, give it 2 weeks to commit to forcing yourself out of bed every day. Getting to bed early the night before helps too. Many clients who now love an early session report that it takes a few weeks of resetting their internal clocks in order to feel ready to spring out of bed to hit the gym.
appointments2. Make it an appointment. Then keep it. Write your workouts on your calendar. Yes, really. Workouts are a firm part of my routine now, but if I don’t have the specific time and dates on my calendar I’m more likely to keep shoving my workout later and later until I either end up skipping it or find myself alone in the weight room at 9:30 pm. Both options are less than ideal.

3. Be flexible. There will be days when the “shit hits the fan”. You get called into work early. A snowstorm hits. You get stuck at work far later than you anticipated.

My kid barfed in my bed at 4 a.m. Monday morning. Yeah, that was awesome. I couldn’t get to the gym, so I had to work out at home. I didn’t get heavy leg work done that day, but I pushed that workout until the next morning and instead did a home-based conditioning workout.
That way, I still squeezed in exercise and felt better. If you commit to moving in some way every day, you may find yourself moving more than if you had a rigid expectations of 4 perfectly-scheduled days of sessions.

A few quick, “do anywhere” workouts are handy to have in your back pocket for days like these. 5-10 minutes can be squeezed into anyone’s day.

4. Value yourself. I have a client who discovered that she regularly missed her workouts because she didn’t see her health as being just as important as the kids, the housework, or the job. She said that it was important to her, but her actions spoke otherwise. Sometimes it takes a shift in mindset to place more importance on ourselves.

5. Be realistic about how much time you have. Ask yourself how much time you actually have before you decide what kind of workout program you do. Serious strength and fat loss progress can be made on a minimalistic routine (like those workouts in my new Strength Challenge for Women. Read on for more info on that). You can train for a 5k without a huge time commitment. But a marathon or a bodybuilding show? That may be a big undertaking.

Moreover, I’ve found that when people set an unrealistic goal for the time spent working out and then fail to meet it, they’re less likely to stick with their activity than people who start with smaller goals and are able to meet them.
6. If you have young kids, make your workout routine family friendly. For many of us, the advice that we have “plenty of time” for TV and Facebook is smug and not very helpful. Yes, we all waste time on stuff. But there are hours in the day where we may have time but are otherwise chained to the house – moms and dads of young kids in particular. The YMCA saved me here with free childcare. Home based workouts are also life savers if you’re routinely stuck at home without much gym availability.

henry handstand
7. But consider letting your kids in on your routine. On days with decent weather, my cardio is often nothing more than playing with my kids in the yard. And that’s okay.  I even made a workout around it last summer. This month, my 10 year old and I have been doing lunges, pushups, and squats every night before he goes to bed. He asked me to do this and it’s become a sort of sweet, if odd, bonding ritual.
8. Take a hard look at your current commitments. Do you say yes to things because it’s hard to say no? Being able to find “balance” is sort of a b.s. idea. Something always has to give. The perfectly clean house. The time you said you’d chair a committee yet now feel overwhelmed by its time involvement. It’s tough to say no. But by saying no to more things, you can say yes to what matters most.
9. Divvy it up – if you’re in the weeds with commitments, you might not be able to instantly disentangle yourself. But finding 2 minutes here and there to do things like dance while doing dishes, squats while holding a baby, or walking from the back of the parking lot to the grocery store adds up to you feeling the physical effects of more movement. This not only helps your health, it motivates you to find even more minutes – even if you need to split them up.

Businesswoman with suitcase in airport
10. Choose activities that fit the available lifestyle you currently lead. Do you travel all the time? If a hotel gym and a treadmill are your most commonly available tools, then spending some time designing a program that fits with these will set you up for more success than trying to constantly retool a program that doesn’t mesh well with your life demands.

There’s no way around some sacrifices having to be made, and a consistent routine requires finding your own drive for wanting to engage in activity regularly. Find things you don’t dread, make your own health a priority, be creative with scheduling, and you’ll have a leg up on making fitness a regular part of your life.

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8 Reasons Why We Eat Too Much And What To Do About Them

dogbonesIt’s lunch time on Tuesday. It’s a writing and “housekeeping” sort of day, so instead of running around, I’m snuggled up at home. It’s warm. Ella Fitzgerald is crooning softly on Spotify. And I have time: exquisite, rare time to be alone in my house and wander into the kitchen and grab a snack. Or two. Or three.

Now it’s 2:15 and I’ve eaten the lion’s share of my calories for the day, yet I’m not sure I was really even that hungry. I was just surrounded by yummy things in my home. Can you relate to eating out of boredom?

Why We Overeat
There are many reasons that we end up eating too much. The idea of “too much” is a bit loaded. Let’s say for our purposes today that we’re using the context of energy needs to either maintain our weight or lose fat. If you’re one of those people who is trying to put on weight, I salute you. Bulking sounds like a hell of a fun challenge.

Here are some common reasons why we eat too much to support our body composition goals, with troubleshooting suggestions that follow.

bing1.  Reactive Bingeing – Binge eating can be a form of eating disorder, and if you regularly binge on foods, consuming thousands of calories at a time, I strongly urge you to connect with a therapist who can provide real help. Another form of bingeing exists too, however: reactive bingeing. If we severely restrict calories for a period of time, we instinctively want to fuel ourselves. That can lead to unbridled eating that unravels the deficit we were trying so hard to create. Instead of slashing our calories down severely, a more modest deficit of 300-500 calories is healthier for our bodies and minds.

nope nope nope

nope nope nope

2. Go Home, You Are Drunk. There’s a reason that fast food joints are open late around college campuses. After a night of partying, what seems like a good idea? Tacos. And pizza, of course. Not only does alcohol come loaded with calories, we lose some of our better judgment when we get lit. This can lead to poor food choices and cringe-worthy decisions in general. Though it always leads to becoming an awesome dancer. Thanks, vodka. Imbibe responsibly.

 

boredkitteh

3. Boredom.
Emotional eating isn’t always the worst thing in the world, and we’re not failures for having the urge to nosh in response to our feelings. After all, we’re not robots. We’re thinking, feeling beings. Food is something that nourishes our bodies. But it also brings us together, soothes us when we’re aggravated and elevates occasions when we’re celebrating.

Whoever came up with the quip that food should ‘only be fuel’ must be someone who is decidedly not a foodie. The ability of our species to combine flavors and textures to create sublime-tasting dishes is something to be treasured.

The problem is, as someone who really loves to cook and eat, it’s easy to get swept away and pack on more pounds than I’d care to carry.

To help combat eating out of boredom, we can at least be mindful in our eating. What may feel like hunger may not actually be hunger. Instead, we may just have time to imagine delicious things that get our brains humming with possibilities. If you can wait a half hour to see if your hunger grows, you will have solid feedback that eating is a wise idea.

C6E4GF USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Young woman working in office. Image shot 2011. Exact date unknown.

4. Stress. This plays into #3, but along with the solution of mindfulness being helpful, developing alternative coping skills for stress can be a game changer. If food becomes our only coping mechanism, we’re likely to overeat. Walking, playing or listening to music, knitting, and reading a book are ways that I unwind. What are things you can do to care for yourself that don’t necessitate using food?

Hehe remember this book?

Hehe remember this book?

5. Too much junk food. A little junk food spices up life. Ain’t no shame in your game for loving a few “fun foods”. But a steady diet of highly processed foods will likely not only deprive you of precious nutrients; it will also leave your belly grumbling. Whole foods like lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits will keep you full longer with fewer calories consumed.

deenuts

6. Too much ‘healthy’ food. It’s harder to over-consume calories if you’re eating plenty of whole foods. But it can still happen. The biggest culprits that I find trip up my online training clients are things that actually do have an excellent nutrient profile yet are calorically dense: nuts, avocados, and whole grains are just a few. You don’t have to stop eating them. Just be aware that small portions are probably the best way to incorporate them unless you have a big calorie budget.

buddysnack

7. Mindless nibbling. I did this a lot when my kids were young – I’d eat a bite or three off of their plates. I’d grab a handful of this or that each time I entered the kitchen. When you’re a mom of many little people, actually sitting down to a thoughtful meal during the day can be tricky. If you’re a nibbler, change the environment that’s causing this to happen:

For example, if you mindlessly snack in the kitchen, try keeping foods off of the kitchen counter. Consider putting portions of snacks into containers that you then can decide to eat. You’ll often consume less overall this way. Alternatively, consider eliminating snacking and instead choosing larger, more filling meals to decrease the urge for snack foods.

grandmafood

8. Celebrating. When we’re caught up in a wonderful moment with people we love, food becomes a way to connect with each other. There are two ways to look at this: one would be that food doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of enjoying people’s company.  Another would be to just allow yourself to enjoy the food and your loved ones. We only have one life on this planet, and constant restraint usually leads to overeating at some point later on.

My strategy on this one – fill up earlier in the day on foods that are relatively light on calories yet high on the “filling factor”: namely lean protein and veggies. That way you won’t have eaten all that many calories when you head into your party. You also won’t go in ravenous and ready to dive bomb the nachos.

The Big Picture
The really good news is that once you’ve begun to identify where your trouble spots lie, you can take steps to improve your eating habits. And remember, food isn’t the enemy. It’s something we can love – as long as we have a healthy relationship with it for the long term. 

Looking for more ways to get healthy in the new year? Sign up for my FREE Women’s Strength Challenge and get a kick start to building lean muscle in 2016. It takes just 30 minutes 3 times a week. Get on it!

 

The Curious Case of a Girl and Her Coke – A Lesson in Problem Solving

case of coke

No, I’m not talking about cocaine, although that would make for a very interesting story indeed. Drug use is out of my scope of practice. But Coca-Cola is what I’m referencing today, and I have a story to tell that might help you with your fitness progress too.

One of my clients has spent the last two years intermittently trying to stop drinking Coke. She loves the stuff. But she had a vague idea that it was probably time to make a change. After all, everyone says drinking pop is bad. And diet pop? Well, that has practically become the new meth in the eyes of popular media.

A little soda is no big deal to me – enjoy the treats that you like. But this habit had turned into a 32 ounce soda 3 times per day. Ouch. 

Her well-meaning friends offered oodles of suggestions and advice. WARNING: I call soda “pop”. I’m in the Midwest, it’s our thing.

“Pop is terrible for you. Isn’t pop, like, the new cigarettes?”
“You should drink more water”.
“You should drink seltzer water instead.”
“You shouldn’t keep it in the house.”

These statements came out of a loving place, but a funny thing happens when someone tells you that you should do something. I call it “shoulding” on people. Huh huh huh.

shoulda

When we hear from people that we should do something, we often subconsciously dig in our heels. After all, nobody else completely gets us. Think of the bad boy in high school who a girl wants to date. Her parents forbid him from seeing him. And she runs right into his arms.

In my friend’s case, she ran right back into the arms of her beloved Coke, after trying each helpful suggestion for a brief period of time.

She DID want to make a change: but she knew that going cold turkey would never work, so she inched her way down to a smaller amount each day. That’s really great progress in my eyes.

Still, when this lovely young woman began working with me, I had a hunch that the 24 ounces of Coke she drank each day was going to give her some issues with meeting her nutritional goals. But instead of telling her not to drink it, I went a different route: I said nothing. I only asked her what she could do to squeeze in more protein and still stay in her calorie range.

The first few weeks were tough. My client began to realize that her large consumption of the delicious, bubbly drink was making it nearly impossible to support her fat loss goal. But some kind of fire was burning inside of her, and she tried cutting back instead of eliminating it entirely. She lost a little fat, and that stoked those fires even more.

She started sharing her own observations:

I had the worst craving for Coke when I was really, really hungry. But I had some seltzer water, and it passed.

I realized that my 2nd coke of the day is going to make it really tough to hit my daily calories.

Maybe I’ll get an 8 ounce can and think of that as a treat instead of a daily part of my life.

And then today I received this email: 

Random musings: I drank SO much water and I didn’t even die. So there’s that. Towards the end of the night I realized I had hit my protein goals and still had the calories for a Coke.  Since I wasn’t hungry, I thought,”okay, I’ll have one.”  I only drank 1/2.  It hit the spot and I didn’t feel the need to drink the rest.  I feel so good about that. There are a lot of moving parts to overall health/wellness/fitness.  I’m feeling good about this.  I feel like it’s changing everything — the way I cook, the way I think about food, even pop.

She’s already come a long way in her ability to understand her own body, her challenges, and her priorities. She’s becoming a student of her own health. And that will take her far.

This isn’t surprising if you take into consideration something called “self determination theory”.  It’s a framework that suggests that people have innate needs that motivate them to change and grow 1

According to this theory, people need 3 things in order to change and grow:

1. Competence – gaining skills necessary to grow. These come with time and practice.

2. Connections – people need to feel a sense of belonging to other people – to feel supported and understood.

3. Autonomy – we need to feel in control of our goals and behaviors.

Extrinsic motivators, like a reward for completing a task, can be motivating too. But for the long haul, finding that motivation inside of us is priceless. It requires continued “feeding” to work, but healthy environments that allow these things to continue to flourish make a positive impact on continued personal growth.

My client had support. She gained skills. And ultimately, she came up with her own solutions. And because they’re her own, I’ll let you in on a secret: she’s going to be 100% more likely to stick with them. Because they take into consideration that last piece of the puzzle: autonomy. Her choices grew from her own wisdom, experience, and choice.

So let me ask you: are you making a choice because someone said you should? Or because you feel like you should? The “shoulds” seem to rarely be the things we actually want. So what do you want – really want?

Give yourself some props for being intelligent. Dig in there a little bit and find the thing that you really want to change for yourself and you’ll be able to come up with some spectacular solutions.

 

Notes:

  1. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Help Prevent Shoulder Injuries With This Simple Move

prettyshoulder

There are exercises we do because they make us stronger overall or because they help us move better. We might choose one because we want to build particular muscles for aesthetic reasons. Those are all perfectly legit.

But there are a few movements I include in my clients’ training and my own because they not only help us get stronger – they help our bodies keep from breaking down.

The older I get, the crankier my body seems to become if I don’t give it some TLC on a regular basis. I’ve had shoulder injuries before and they feel terrible. The best advice I can give you is to prevent one from happening in the first place.

Here’s an exercise I keep in my arsenal for shoulder health as well as upper back development: the face pull.

The face pull is a funny name for an excellent movement that helps keep your shoulders functioning well and less likely to become injured. The shoulder joint is something rather miraculous. It’s a ball-and-socket joint and allows us to move in all sorts of directions.
scoi-shoulder
 
However, with all of that movement we can run into trouble if we don’t work on strengthening the muscles that stabilize the joint. And if you’re a gym rat like I am, it also helps balance out all that pressing work we do each week.  
 
The big players in shoulder health are you scapulae – your shoulder blades. They attach at your shoulders and in your rib cage, and you might say they’re kind of a big deal. Many muscles move those big plates on your back, including your rotator cuff muscles, your traps, serratus anterior, and rhomboids. 
 
What you need to know is that it’s not so much just that you’re making those muscles strong to stabilize your shoulder joint: your shoulder blades need to be able to move appropriately in many directions. 
 
Some people talk about just doing more pulling exercises like rows to balance out pressing work. But first of all, I’ve found that my lats tend to do much of the work when I do rows and smaller, stabilizing muscles like my traps, rhomboids, and serratus anterior don’t have to work as hard as they should in order to keep my shoulder blades moving well. 
Additionally, many pulling exercises still call on our scapulae to rotate downward, just like those pushing movements do.  That’s why it’s important to also find exercises that encourage upward rotation as well. 
 
So we do things like the face pull. Want to learn how to do it? Read on.
 

You can do face pulls seated or standing. Seated might be even better, and I’ve seen my own coach, Jordan Syatt, do them this way. But everyone in my gym stole the benches so I had to stand. Jerks

You’ll need a cable machine with a rope attachment for these. Here’s what they look like:​

 

The Beginning of the Pull:

facepull 1

The End of the Pull 
facepull2

Top Tips:

1. Grab the rope with your thumbs up and avoid twisting you arms inward. Your palms will be facing each other. This feels comfier to me and it allows for a greater range of motion. 

2. Set your starting point of the cable at around the height of your head. 

3. Aim to keep your elbows at around shoulder height as you pull back. 

4. I think about letting my shoulder blades pull back here to make the movement happen – not my head moving forward. Watch for the rep in the video where I catch myself doing it. Ooops

 
5. To get this movement to happen more naturally, imagine that you’re pulling the rope apart. 
 
6. Allow yourself time to feel the “squeeze” as you pull back before controlling the movement back to your starting position. 
 
7. While you do this exercise, imagine that you’re keeping your shoulders away from your ears so that you don’t get into a “shruggy” position. 
 

How Much and When to Do Them

This isn’t a “1 rep max” kind of exercise. It makes a good drill or a nice exercise to finish out a workout using relatively light weight for higher reps. 

Try 3 sets of 15-20 reps for stronger back and shoulder muscles that keep your shoulders happy and healthy. 

 
If you’d like to see this move in action, here’s a video demo. Enjoy! 

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When A Picture Cannot Tell A Thousand Words

heartpicI’m not really much of a crier. The only time that I was a weepy mess was when I was pregnant. Those were the days when I sobbed because my husband couldn’t find me a slice of cheesecake on a road trip. Or during commercials. Or even while watching a sad episode of Law and Order. Maybe my soul is cold and dead now… nah. Not a crier.

Until the other day. I opened up Gmail to work with my online coaching clients. And this popped up from my client who I’ll just call “T”:

 

newcapture1taylor

 

Yeah, I was a bit of a blubbery mess, simply because seeing her write those words about herself stunned and touched me.

You see, T is a friend of mine here at home. I’ve watched her struggle over the years with not only her weight: she felt constantly overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out. She took care of everyone else except herself. And she rarely talked about herself in a way that made me believe she valued herself.
T came to a few of my classes at different gyms. But nothing really stuck. I could tell she was interested in strength training, but gyms terrified her. She felt like she didn’t belong in any of them. It wasn’t until I hauled her down to our dirty, dank powerlifting gym that I saw the light come into her eyes. Not because of the gym, but because of what people were doing in it.

I’ll confess that I was a little excited to be the one showing a newbie the ropes down there that day. I’m one of the young scrubs on my team full of veteran powerlifters. I expected I’d have some big work to do to help T learn the basic movements.

But then she surprised me.

T squatted with the stability and grace of someone who had been at it for years. What? How? Hmm. Then I took her over to the bench press, where she picked up the basics easily… then proceeded to out-bench me by a large margin without much effort. And deadlifting…. don’t even get me started. She nailed it, of course. Not even baby weights – like an actually sizeable weight: off the damn floor with nearly flawless form.

It was right in front of us: T was born to lift. She seemed almost giggly down there. And I became giggly too, just watching her blossom.

I expect a lot of exciting progress out of T in the next few years. She found a way of moving her body that not only is good for her health: it has made her feel capable, strong inside, and allowed her to look beyond the size of her body as a measure of her worth.
T signed on for a month of coaching with me before starting her powerlifting program. I wanted her to have a jump start on building habits that would keep her from reverting to her former “yo-yo”patterns. T wanted to slowly begin making changes in her body composition as well, so along with  working on movement,  we worked on nutrition as well and monitored her fat loss progress. I was blown away when I checked her measurements:

Capturetaylor2

Sorry, I get a little sweary when I’m jumping up and down in excitement.

But when I saw T’s progress in how she felt and talked about herself, the inches seemed a lot less important.

newtaylor3

This lovely woman used to speak as though she was helpless against the forces of life. Now she speaks as someone who is fully in control of her destiny. When things get rough, she rolls with it. Like a BOSS. She is able to evaluate what she needs to improve and celebrates the things that she does well.

That progress is worth a hell of a lot more than a pants size to someone who has struggled with their self esteem, isn’t it?

They say a picture says a thousand words.
Yes, pictures can be great. It’s okay to want to pursue aesthetic goals. Pictures are also an easy reminder of transformation:

audraanonback

This is one of my clients who asked to remain anonymous because she’s not quite ready to be “internet naked”. Here is her body comp progress after 1 month of coaching. It’s pretty cool to watch change happen in front of your eyes. The picture shows lower body fat, but it doesn’t tell you that she’s begun taking time for herself to move each day even though she has a baby at home.

Angie progress back 12 week

This is my client, Angie. Her 12 week progress picture helped her realize that sometimes the scale doesn’t show improvement in body composition. And the picture is a wonderful reminder that all her strength training paid off. But the picture doesn’t let you know that Angie was really frustrated after her first year back into teaching threw her routine out the window. The picture can’t tell you that Angie’s work on her fitness put a spring back into her step that had been missing for a while.

amyprogress

This is my own progress pic. My body fat percentage lowered quite a bit and I gained some sweet muscle over 6 months. But it can’t tell you that powerlifting not only gave me bigger muscles: it made me feel unstoppable and more confident about other challenges in my life. It can’t show you that I can run faster, move with less pain, and feel more energy with better nutrients humming through my body. 

When you hear the stories that come with no progress picture, you realize that the most important transformations cannot be captured with a before and after shot.

After all, how do we capture the transformation of someone’s heart?

T has a big heart, and instead of pouring every last bit of it into everyone else, she’s learning to save a little bit for herself. Establishing the practice of strength training and developing the mindset required to work at fitness played a huge role in improving her self-image.

And that’s why I cried tears for T. 

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