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Monday, March 30, 2009

How to fit it all in

Someone asked me recently, "as a busy mom who works outside the home, how do you fit it all in?" Meaning, how do I find time to exercise, of course! So I thought I'd devote a blog post to this topic.

There's a little motto I like that relates to this topic. It's, "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it." The point is that busy people use time efficiently because they have no other choice! So if you're a busy person, like I am, take heart! You can find time for your workouts because you know that time is precious, and you can't waste it on tasks that don't help you with your goals.

So now back to me. What does a typical day look like...

Well, I'm generally up at 6:30 am, which is about 30 minutes after my son comes into my room and cuddles with me. I love starting my day with hugs and cuddles from my kids. And, I'm not a morning person, so it certainly helps me wake up with a smile.

I spend the next 90 minutes getting myself and my son ready (my husband is generally in charge of our daughter), packing lunches, and doing any last minute arrangements for the day.

Then it's off to work! I'm at work from 9:00am until 5:30pm, and often just take a quick break at my desk for lunch. Since I pack my lunch, I don't have to waste time going to the cafeteria every day, which is a huge time suck!

So after work, I rush home to relieve the babysitter at 6:00pm. She prepares dinner for the kids, and they are usually sitting down to eat when I walk in the door. I run upstairs and change into workout clothes before she leaves. Then, while the kids eat, I figure out what my husband and I will be eating and start making our dinner.

Then I have about 90 minutes to play with the kids and eat before it's time to start getting the kids ready for bed. They're tucked in at 8:30pm, and if I haven't eaten dinner yet, that's when I do so.

By 9:00pm, I'm ready for my workout. If it's Tuesday or Thursday, I run off to the gym (mine is open 24 hrs during the work week), and spend about 45 minutes doing weights, 10-20 minutes doing HIIT (high intensity interval training), and about 10 minutes before or after working on new moves or chatting with the "regulars." If I'm efficient, I can get home, drink 8oz of chocolate milk, and get to bed by 11:00pm. I often choose to stay up later, because I'm a night owl, but I reasonably could be in bed by then.

On Monday and Wednesday, I do 20 - 40 minutes of light exercise, often a yoga video from ExerciseTV. I just try to do this before I sit down to watch my favorite TV shows (which I record on the DVR for convenience).

Now that's what -I- do. Your mileage may vary! But I do recommend a few things that may help:

1) Know yourself. If you are a morning person, get up early and get your workout in then. Leave the kids (if you have them) to your spouse and take that time for YOU. If you're a night person, follow what I do. If you can work out over lunch, schedule it on your calendar and stick to it.

2) Work out smart! If you're busy, you can't waste hours in the gym. Focusing on low rep, high weight exercises with little rest, and no more than 20 minutes of cardio, in the form of HIIT, should give you an effective workout.

3) If you can work out at home - DO! Cutting out the time spent driving to and from a gym may help you find the time to exercise.

4) Work out alone. Yes, having a workout buddy is great for motivation, but the workout can start become more about hanging out and catching up than exercising. If you already have a workout buddy, make an agreement with them that your exercise time is not social time.

5) Dress the part. If it's your night to work out, put on your workout clothes as early as possible, including your shoes. You will be more likely to exercise.

6) Don't be afraid to ask your spouse to step in with the kids so you can work out. You will be a better role model for your children if you are active, fit, and happy. So the time away from them is important, if it helps you with these goals.

7) Don't sit down on the couch or at the computer until you've gotten your workout in! It's too easy to waste time in front of the TV or computer (oh boy don't I know it), and before you know it you'll be ready for bed and it will be too late to work out.

8) Know your limits. If you're like me, you have a tendency to say "yes" too often, and take on many new responsibilities. So recognize when your volunteering needs to be scaled back in recognition of your priorities, which should include your health!

So now it's your turn! What are your challenges with fitting in exercise, and how do you make it work? What tips have helped you the most?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Secrets to great abs (hint - it's not sit-ups)

Just about everyone I see at the gym spends at least some of their workout doing some type of sit-up or crunch. Now I've been going to this gym for five months, and I see the same people regularly. What I can tell you is that the same people I see doing sit-ups every week still have the same flabby midsections they had five months ago. Maybe you've experienced the same thing - sit-up after sit-up, crunch after crunch, and still you don't have a toned midsection.

Well, I'll tell you two things I've learned about great abs. The first, and this is an important one:

Abs are made in the kitchen.

In short, visible and toned abs only emerge when your overall body fat is low. Your nutrition is a huge part of this. It doesn't matter how many hours you spend in the gym or how many sit-ups you do. If you don't eat a healthy diet at an appropriate calorie level for your body, you will not have visible abs.

Now the second one is actually my favorite:

You can (and should) get strong abs without doing a single sit-up or crunch.

Yep, although it surprised me to find it out, this is actually true. And your back will thank you for realizing it! Here are a list of exercises to avoid:

Sit-ups, especially those where the feet are "locked" works the hip flexors more than the abs, plus they put strain on the back. Forget them!

"Ab Rocker" and other machines used to support the head actually weaken your neck muscles exposing you to greater risk of injury AND none have been proven more effective than exercises done without equipment.

Weight lifting machines designed to target ab muscles isolate the movements and do not provide you with a true functional exercise. As a result, they can cause injury and create muscle imbalances.

Crunches, although not a bad exercises, are terribly overused. Especially when done with your back flat on the floor, they shorten your abdominal wall, and are less effective than many other ab exercises.

So then I've likely just taken away most of the ways you know to work your abs, let me tell share my favorite ab exercises with you:

Plank - It's my favorite, and a classic -- just as effective as a crunch without the strain on the back. If you can't hold a plank for at least 20 seconds, you should focus on being able to do that before moving on to any other ab exercise. You can increase difficulty by putting your forearms on a swiss/stability ball. You can also do side planks to work the obliques.

Stability ball jackknife - This one takes some practice, but I've found it extremely effective. A more advanced move is the stability ball pike, and I suggest you practice it at home, as attempting it in a busy gym for the first time can be a bit intimidating.

Hanging knee raise or knee raise on captain's chair - This is the hardest of the exercises I've listed, at least in my opinion. If you have access to a captain's chair, you can also keep your legs straight and raise them up to your waist as a variation.

If you want something even more challenging, there is a great workout used by the UNC Tar Heels. I recommended it to a colleague with a bad back, and he says it has changed his life! The workout does have some crunches, so I generally substitute those with planks with my hands on the medicine ball.

So if you, like me, hate sit-ups and crunches, I hope you can celebrate your freedom from them. If you want great abs, clean up your nutrition, work off that body fat, and incorporate some of the core training exercises I've listed above.

Let me know how they work out for you!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What can you accomplish in 60 days?

I mentioned earlier that I had just finished up the Turbulence Training 60-day Twitter Transformation Contest, and was pleasantly surprised by my results. Well, the finalists have been posted, and I'm among them! So although I've already posted today's blog post, I'm going to do a little bonus one to explain about the contest and share my entry.

*Note: The contest ended 3/24 and I was selected as the Runner Up! To check out the latest TT contest, please visit www.transformationcontest.com.

For this contest, I had to sign up for a Twitter account, and then start "tweeting" my workouts. I was also encouraged to tweet my nutrition, successes, and struggles. I had never used Tweeter before, but it sounded like it was right up my alley. So I took a set of pictures on January 15, 2009, and started tweeting! My contest ran through March 15, 2009, and as you see by the newspaper in the pics above, it IS possible to transform your body in 60 days, even if all you have left to lose are the last five pounds!

Twitter is a great way to stay accountable to your goals. There are some really great fitness and nutrition gurus on there that you can follow. Their posts will help keep you motivated. But the key is to find some good people to follow you, support you when you need it, and congratulate you on your successes.

When I entered the contest, my goal was really to become stronger. I did, but along the way, I lost some inches as well. Here are my before and after stats as well as my essay.

Workouts used:
1 week of TT for Female Strength Phase II
4 weeks of Gain Muscle/Lose Fat
1 week of Buff Dudes Hot Chicks

Weight: -5.5lbs to 111
Body fat: 15.5% w/ calipers (not sure of starting level)
Arm (flexed): up 0.5" to 11"
Chest: down 0.5" to 34"
Waist: down 1" to 27"
Belly Button: down 1" to 30"
Hip: down 2" to 35"
Thigh: down 0.75" to 17"

Total inches lost: 5.25"

Never having used Twitter before, I wasn't sure what to expect when I joined Craig's 60-day Twitter Transformation contest. But once I started using it, I really enjoyed the immediate responses and support from my fellow TTers. In a short time, doing my daily tweets was like second nature for me.

Within a very short time I had built up a network of fitness gurus and ordinary people, like myself, from TTmembers.com. The daily tips and advice really helped me stay motivated, and seeing other people's workouts and meals helped keep me on task. For instance, when I started Buff Dudes & Hot Chicks (BDHC), I saw two other TTers talking about their times for workout C. Because of that, I timed myself and worked hard to come in with a good overall time. And all of that made it fun, too!

Knowing I needed to post my meals and my workouts in a very visible way really put the spotlight on any poor choices I made. So when I was contemplating eating one of my kid's cookies, I'd just remember how disappointing it would be to have to post it on Twitter. I also had goals around completing my off-day workouts, and when I would tweet that I didn't get them done, people would check up on me to make sure I got back on track the next off day.

I really don't know what I expected coming into this. I started off already below what I had seen as my "goal weight" so I was instead focused on getting a more strong and fit body. I didn't expect the absolutely shocking transformation that resulted. I took a body that I thought looked pretty good and turned it into an even leaner, well-muscled body! My butt is smaller, my tummy is flatter, and seeing those pictures of my back make me so proud of all of the work I did.

Now, I'm hooked! I love using Twitter, and I've actually gained a ton of followers who have been inspired by my progress and dedication to improving my fitness. Thanks so much to Craig and the members at ttmembers.com, for all of your support and encouragement!

Navigating the pitfalls of restaurant eating

If you're a working parent, it's pretty much a given that you're going to eat food that comes under the category of "restaurant eating," whether it's fast food, takeout, or actual dining out (which presents a whole new set of challenges when little ones come along). Although I've worked hard over the past year on cutting back on the number of meals that are prepared outside our home (which has financial as well has health benefits), there is still some percentage of the time where we're eating restaurant food. So I thought I'd share a few tips that have helped me stay on track, even when I'm eating out.

1. Don't be afraid to make special requests. Yes, it's true that people who have heard me order often make a reference to the movie "When Harry Met Sally" afterwards. They can tease me all they want, because a few simple requests can cut fat, sodium, and sugar by more than 50%!

Some of my favorite special requests:
  • Sauce on the side (more obvious for salad, but also consider for burgers, tacos, burritos, or other food items that have sauce spread on a bun or inside a tortilla).
  • No cheese or light on the cheese
  • Substitute steamed/grilled vegetables for the french fries
  • Hold the potato/tortilla chips (easier to leave them off than to resist eating them once they are in front of you)
  • Hold the butter or light on the butter (on the roll, hamburger bun, vegetables, grilled fish)
2. Prepare before you go. Check to see if the restaurant has a menu on-line, and review the nutritional information of things you are likely to want to eat to see how the data stacks up. Plan what you will order in advance, if possible.

3. Avoid food items that contain high fat "buzzwords" like...
  • Smothered
  • Battered/fried/crispy
  • Casserole
  • Cheesy
  • Creamy
  • Au gratin
  • Country
  • Gravy
4. Look for items containing healthier "buzzwords" like...
  • Grilled
  • Steamed
  • Poached
  • Baked
  • Roasted
  • Au jus
5. Beware high fat items masquerading as healthy items. Many people go out to a restaurant, and with the intention of eating healthy, they forgo the steak and baked potato they really want and order a salad. Unfortunately, at many restaurants, things like high fat dressings, croutons, bacon, cheese, and even fried tortilla shells have turned salads into some of the worst items on the menu! Better to get a small steak (take home part of any steak larger than about 4oz), a baked potato w/ salsa (not butter), and grilled veggies (without butter). You'll satisfy your desire for filling food, and end up eating less fat and calories than if you'd gone with that salad.

6. Watch those portion sizes! Some of these restaurants use huge plates and fill them up to "give you your money's worth." Well what a great way to save money AND calories! Ask for a box right when your meal comes, and immediately put at least half of it away for another meal. Think about the size plates you use at home and leave an amount of food that would look more appropriate on your home dishes, not those oversized restaurant ones!

With all of these rules in mind, I headed out to one of the restaurants my family frequents, ready to see if I could cut the calories and fat on one of their regular menu items to something reasonable. The restaurant? On the Border, which is one of the worst restaurants in the industry for having shockingly high fat and sodium in their menu items. They do offer a small list of healthier options, but my goal was to try to make one of the regular menu items healthy.

Starting item:

3 sauce fajita steak burrito with rice and refried beans
Calories: 1560
Fat: 78g
Sat Fat: 31g
Carbs: 126g
Protein: 72g
Fiber: 19g
Sodium: 4950mg

This is how I ordered it:
"May I have the 3-sauce fajita steak burrito, hold the queso and sour cream sauce. Black beans with no cheese on them. And can you please substitute grilled vegetables for the rice?"

Okay, that's not so bad. There was no eye-rolling on the part of the server, and they didn't seem to think any of my requests were strange. Using the restaurants own nutritional charts, here how I estimated the nutritional information for my custom order:

Ranchero sauce fajita steak burrito with grilled vegetables and black beans without cheese
Calories: 930
Fat: 39g
Sat Fat: 17g
Carbs: 77g
Protein: 55g
Fiber: 13g
Sodium: 2850mg

Let's see how I did! Just a few simple requests, and I cut the calories, carbs, and sodium by 40%, and fat by 50% (saturated fat by 45%), while reducing the healthy statistics - protein and fiber - by smaller amounts (24% and 32%, respectively). Although it's not as healthy as some of their "Border Smart" items, none of them include steak. You could cut the calories and fat even more on this meal if you choose the chicken burrito instead of the steak version I chose.

Okay, so admittedly that's still awfully high in fat and calories for a single meal, but if I ate sensibly during the rest of the day, I could still fit this into an 1800 calorie day without much trouble. Not much to do about that sodium level except flush it out with lots of water.

So yes, you can still occasionally go out to eat, if you follow some of the guidelines I laid out above, and eat sensibly during the rest of the week. Another great resource is the "Eat This, Not That" series of books and web services. Although I don't always agree with the author's recommendation on what to eat instead, the recommendations on what NOT to eat are spot-on!

Thanks for reading, and happy dining!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is "Cardio" a four-letter word to you?

I was talking to a colleague today at work about fitness and weight lifting. We were talking about using kettlebells, and he mentioned how he has trouble motivating himself to do cardio. He complained that it's boring and it stresses his joints.

Sometimes it seems like "cardio" is a dirty word. At least, it is to some of us! Fitness should be fun. You should find a variety of things to do that are interesting, challenging, and leave you wanting more. I grew up so anti-cardio that I think I was infamous among my school's physical education teachers for refusing to run the mile we were required to do for the Presidential Fitness Test. (I walked it EVERY YEAR.) So as someone who ran as an adult because it worked, and not because I liked it, I thought I'd share some of my favorite ways to get my cardio.

First, let me say that if you're doing 40-60 minutes of cardio, NO WONDER YOU'RE BORED! The key to shorter, more effective cardio workouts is through High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short. Remember how my workouts were so effective when I first started running? Well the 2 minutes of running, 3 minutes of walking was interval training! Once I could run the entire 2.5 mile circuit, I wasn't putting out the same level of effort, and ended up in a weight and fat loss plateau. And as a busy working mom, I didn't have an hour a day to spend just on cardio!

That's why HIIT is so great. It's MORE effective than "regular" cardio (some say up to 9 times more effective), takes less time, and allows you to incorporate a wider variety of exercises. The calorie burn from HIIT doesn't stop when the exercise ends. Because you've pushed your body so hard during the exercise, the calorie burn continues long AFTER the exercise is complete. This is called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and it means that even after you get home from the gym and are vegging out on the couch with your family, you'll STILL be burning fat - more fat in total than if you'd spent an hour jogging on the treadmill. Read more about HIIT here.

So now let's talk about some of the different ways to do HIIT. There are really only a few requirements. First, your training needs to have what are called "work intervals," where you are pushing yourself to an extreme level of effort. Second, your training needs to have "recovery intervals," where you allow your heart rate to return to a more normal level. Third, you shouldn't overdo it. Limit yourself to no more than eight intervals per session. If you can do more than that, you need to increase the intensity. And on that note, let me reiterate that your work intervals need to be REALLY tough. I know I'm exercising at the right intensity level when I'm wondering whether I can make it when there are 5 seconds left on the clock.

With all that in mind, you can really use any exercise to do HIIT. In my personal workouts, I tend to alternate between three different styles:

1) Sprinting - classic intervals, I do these on the treadmill. I sprint as fast as I can (and with me admittedly not being a runner, that's frankly not very fast) at a small incline, and then walk during the recovery intervals. I still don't like these a ton, but they're over quickly, and I'm always really proud of my progress.

2) Kettlebell swings - one of the most basic and easy to learn kettlebell exercises, the swing can really get your heart rate elevated! I swing a 16kg kettlebell for 30 seconds, and then walk for 30 seconds.

3) Bodyweight exercises - this is where you can get really creative. I might do things like bodyweight squats, push-ups, jumping jacks, lunges, or really any exercise that uses a lot of the larger muscles in the body. Usually, I do a complete circuit, rest, and then repeat the circuit one or two times.

Those are the exercises I use for cardio, but there are many more! You can use a spin bike, rowing machine, stair stepper, or you can do jump roping, burpees, man-makers, or any other exercise that allows you to really push your body to its physical limits over a short period of time.

So now it's time to say, "no more excuses." You can have your cardio AND enjoy it. And my colleague? He'll be trying kettlebell swings for his cardio next time, and I bet he'll be a lot more excited about them than he was about running for 40 minutes on the treadmill!

Share with me! How do you do your HIIT?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A day in my nutritional life

A few of my readers (and many more people who have seen these changes in person) have inquired about my eating habits. I thought it might be helpful to show you what I USED to eat, as well as what I eat now. Fortunately, since I've been logging information on Gyminee for my entire journey, I can make those comparisons fairly easily.

So let's look at July 1, 2008.

I started off my day with an Attain Breakfast Shake, mixed with skim milk.
For my morning snack, I had 2 saltine crackers topped with 1TB Skippy Natural Creamy peanut butter.
At lunch, I had a taco salad I bought at our cafeteria at work, including a taco shell, lettuce, pico de gallo, cheese, grilled chicken, guacamole and (full fat) sour cream.
Afternoon snack was an apple.
For dinner, we made cheese pizza with Pillsbury dough, pizza sauce, and mozz cheese. I had about 1 1/2 pieces.
After dinner I had some Poppycock for a snack (popcorn w/ nuts).

Total calories: 1563
Fat: 66g
Carbs: 171g
Prot: 81g
Sodium: 2762

Calories from fat: 37%
Calories from carbs: 43%
Calories from protein: 20%

Back then, and in the months following, I found myself frustrated by my ratios at the end of the day. I felt like I needed more protein, but I wasn't sure how to get more in foods that I liked without overdoing it with my fat consumption.

So now let's look at a typical day for me today. This is my actual nutrition from March 3, 2009:

Breakfast was a cut-up nectarine, blueberries, and blackberries topped with 3/4 Cup 1% no salt added cottage cheese (Friendship brand), cinnamon, and 7 walnuts (1/2 oz).

Before I ate my lunch I snacked on 2 celery ribs and 12 large baby carrots, dipped into 1.5TB natural peanut butter. What's important to note here is that the only ingredient in this peanut butter is...peanuts!

For lunch, I had leftovers from the previous night's dinner -- 4oz chicken breast, and about one cup stir-fried veggies including broccoli, onions, chayote squash, celery, matchstick carrots, and mushrooms. In my stir-fry, I threw in 1TB soy sauce (for 4 servings, so 1/4 per serving) and added some water so that it had more volume and coated all of the food. I also tossed it with 1/2 TB natural peanut butter. I also ate a hard boiled egg white at this meal.

In the afternoon, my snack was 3/4 cup 0% Greek yogurt (Fage brand), mixed with 1TB organic strawberry preserves (no sweeteners added), and topped with 1/3 granola (Chappaqua Crunch "Simply Granola").

At dinnertime, I cooked up a recipe I call "Creamy Mushroom Chicken." You flour some chicken breasts (I got them wet with water and used whole wheat flour), and then top it with cream of mushroom soup mixed with some milk. You then top it all with some cheese. I make this healthier by using low sodium soup, seasoning the chicken with garlic and pepper, and going light on the cheese. It's very good. I made some brown rice using chicken broth (Pacific Naturals organic low sodium - only 70mg per cup), and steamed some broccoli as a side.

After my workout that night, I had a snack of an 8oz glass of lowfat chocolate milk (organic valley) and 2 mini whole wheat pitas (which I toast in the toaster oven), which I dipped in 1.5TB hummus.

Total calories: 1737
Fat: 61g
Carbs: 177g
Prot: 129g
Sodium: 1891

Calories from fat: 31%
Calories from carbs: 40%
Calories from protein: 29%

There are a few things that stand out for me when I compare the two meals. First is that I'm focused much more on eating REAL FOOD. So I'm not going to eat a breakfast shake on the run when a healthy breakfast will keep me satisfied much longer. My meals are much more satisfying too. Rather than just a piece of fruit in the afternoon, I'm getting some protein with my yogurt. And look at the difference in the frequency and variety in the vegetables I ate! Between the stir fry veggies with lunch, the raw veggies for snacking, and the steamed veggies with dinner, I had what equates to 2.5 cups of vegetables. Back in July 2008, the only vegetables I ate were from that taco salad. And finally, much more of what I'm eating is from homemade items, or store bought items that I've specifically screened to ensure they don't have much (or any) added sugar, salt, or lots of artificial ingredients.

If I were still trying to lose weight, I would have skipped the rice with the dinner, cut back the cottage cheese and yogurt to just 1/2 C each, and had just one mini pita with hummus. That would have removed about 340 calories, leaving me with nearly 1400 calories for the day.

I do want to add that I am absolutely 100% satisfied with these meals. I am full, and I feel like my food is both interesting and tasty. People I work with are always saying, "wow, that looks really good" when they see me eating.

I'd love to hear good stories about healthy meals you like, brands you've "discovered" that have healthy ingredients, and how you've changed your eating habits.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Turbulence Training Experience

I promised I'd do a blog post about my experience with Craig Ballantyne's Turbulence Training ("TT" for short) exercise program, so here it is.

As you already know, from reading my blog, my weight loss journey started before I found TT, back in June of this year. I had a great summer and made a lot of progress. Three months later, I was down 10 pounds, and looking much better (for a mom of two kids - hence the title of my blog). I kept working out, but was having trouble getting any more results. I figured it just wasn’t possible for me to look the way I did before I had kids.

I somehow never attributed my stalled progress to a lack of significant weight training, my aforementioned addiction to Coke Slushees and my weekly treat of a cheesesteak and french fries. But then I found out about Turbulence Training, and thought it might be worth trying, so I signed up.

As it turned out, my signup took place right after the last date to enter a "Transformation Contest," where you try to transform your body in 12 weeks. There were only 10.5 weeks left in the contest, but I decided it was never too late to get started, and although I thought I’d likely not have a shot of winning, participating in the contest would be fun and help motivate me. So I took my "before" pictures and started my workouts.

Posting my exercise and nutrition on a daily basis opened my eyes quite a bit. And I got some "tough love" from a fellow competitor regarding my nutrition (Thanks, Francis!) that was a great wake-up call for me. I started focusing on eating more whole foods and fewer weight loss shakes and convenience foods. I also started to manage my cravings and tendency towards mindless eating by fasting twice per week, using a program called "Eat Stop Eat." (More on that in another blog post!)

I have to say that I was shocked by the rapid and total transformation of my body. Only nine days into my transformation, I had lost enough fat from my upper body that I was able to button a suit jacket that I had not been able to button just a week earlier! At the end of my transformation, 75 days later, I felt like I had come so far. My nutrition was leaps and bounds better than it was, I had cut out some of the foods that I craved the most, and improved my overall health immensely. I gained in both strength and endurance.

And, I blew past nearly all my goals along the way. My weight was 117 lbs., lower than the 118 lbs. goal I set when I started, and my total body measurements were coming eerily close to the measurements I had as a freshman in college! I lost over 8” from my body, dropped two pant sizes, and looked fantastic! I was literally in shock over the decrease in my body fat percentage. Somehow, I managed to gain two pounds of lean body mass while losing eight pounds of fat during 10.5 weeks! I could see biceps and shoulder definition in the mirror (I NEVER had shoulder definition in my life!), and I managed to do 30 push-ups consecutively. I even went on vacation and found the right balance between enjoying myself and sticking to my plans, coming back lighter than I was when I left!

TT helped me not just achieve a total body transformation, but a total LIFE transformation. I left that contest much smarter and happier than I was when I entered it (not to mention healthier!). I was proud of what I could do, and looking forward to the next chapter in my fitness journey.

I am happy to say I no longer just look good for a mom of two kids. Now I look GOOD! No qualifiers necessary.

See for yourself...

What's even more amazing is this...I'm close to finishing another 12 week transformation contest and my results are guaranteed to shock you. Look for an update in the next two weeks with more recent before and after pics!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Success Strategy #4: Eliminate ALL sodas (even diet)

As an adult, I was a generally healthy person, but I did have a few vices. I remember when I was a freshman in college, I took a health course, and our professor challenged us to make one improvement in our health. I went to her and asked for some help trying to figure out what I should do. She had suggested quitting smoking (not a smoker), stopping alcohol consumption (not a drinker), or beginning an exercise program (I was lifting 4x per week and on the dance team which had me rehearsing 3x per week). Here I was thinking there wasn't anything I could do to make a meaningful change in my health.

I sat down with her and it took her exactly three minutes to find what my change was going to be. All she had to do was ask me about what I eat and drink. That's when she discovered I was such a soda addict that I actually had Sprite with breakfast (Coke with lunch and dinner, but Sprite seemed more appropriate for breakfast, somehow!). She challenged me to give up soda. And I did! But once the class was over, I added it right back without missing a beat. My biggest vice was Coke slushee (slurpees...whatever they are called where you live), and there were many times where a study session would be interrupted by a "Coke Slushee run."

I gave up soda again when I was pregnant the first time after being advised to do so by my OB/GYN. I still remember saying, "well is diet soda okay?" She gave me the MOST disapproving look and said, "it isn't about the calories. You need to be taking in things with nutritional value." Okay then! But yes, one of the first things I asked for after delivery was a 20oz regular Coke. So once again, it was only temporary.

This time I didn't give it up for a class, or for a pregnancy. I gave it up for me. For my health. And I gave it up for good. ALL of it. Even diet soda.

When I am on different fitness sites, I see a lot of people talking about their soda addictions and how they are switching to diet soda. Now I'm not going to tout the dangers of aspartame to steer you away from diet soda or crystal light or whatever your vice might be. There's lots of conflicting information on the web and you certainly can form your own opinion on that. But here's the thing. If you are drinking a diet drink, you're cutting calories, but you're still maintaining your addiction to a nutritionally empty drink, instead of normalizing the act of drinking plain water. And if you're like me, drinking something sweet (whether it's sweet because of sugar or sugar substitutes) makes me crave more sugar and other carbs.

So hear it from me, a recovering soda addict (Hi. I'm Liz. It has been 5 months since my last Coke Slushee). Diet sodas and other diet drinks are just a nutritionally empty way to maintain your soda addiction. So cut back, go cold turkey, whatever works for you. But don't kid yourself that switching to diet drinks is healthy. Go ahead, say it, "But I don't like water." Yeah, neither did I. But just like anything else, once you expose yourself to it enough, you make it normal and find that you can drink it AND enjoy it.

Is it a coincidence that major changes in my body composition followed my all-out ban on soda? Maybe. Try it, and see if you experience the same kind of happy coincidence.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Success Strategy #3: Keep your body guessing

Ever fallen into a rut? You know, when you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again? Well when it comes to fitness, this is a VERY BAD THING.

When my quest for fitness began, I couldn't run a mile. So my neighbor and I went out and walked for 3 minutes, and then ran for 1, over a course of about 2.5 miles (from our doors to the stop sign at the main road and back). As the weeks wore on, we shortened how long we walked, and increased how long we ran. I was getting great results the whole time! About 6 weeks into our plan, I joined a running club, and went for my first run with them. You could choose 2.5 miles or 5 miles. I decided to try 2.5 miles and just see how far I could run without stopping. Well, it took me 28 minutes but I did it!

But here's where it got complicated. The distance of our morning run was around 2.5 miles. Now that I could run 2.5 miles without stopping, it was going to be difficult to change things up enough to continue my progress. If I added distance, it would increase the amount of time I spent exercising each morning, making it harder for me to get the kids ready and get to work on time. So as much as I wanted to keep changing it up, I fell into a rut. I ran 2.5 miles every morning, did the same tired stability ball workout three times a week, and...sure enough...hit a weight loss plateau. Frankly, I just couldn't think up new routines to do.

So when I was looking for new workout routines, Susan from Catapult Fitness Blog recommended I try Turbulence Training. I'll talk more about my success with these workouts in the future but the key point for this post is that each workout plan lasted about 4 weeks. So with dozens of workouts in hand, it was easy to change what I was doing every month and keep my body guessing. It got me over my plateau last September, and continues to help me see results today.

No matter what workout strategy you use, DON'T fall into a rut. If you have a personal trainer write your routines for you, it will be worth the time and money to go back to them periodically (monthly or every two months) and get a new program. If you're using a routine you purchased or found on-line, remember to increase your weights or intensity each week, and when you have mastered the routine...move on to a new one.

Just a final note -- we all have favorite exercises, the ones that make us feel strong or accomplished or just overall fantastic. Maybe your favorite exercise in the gym in bench press. Well, you might be surprised how much your bench improves if you take a break from it for a month and do incline chest press, push-ups, or floor press instead. So look for new ways to work the same muscles, new routines to challenge yourself, and learn to love a new way to work the same old muscles.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Success Strategy #2: Cut calories

I was watching Biggest Loser last night (on demand - I work out Tuesday nights so I never get to watch it live), and one of the questions asked of the contestants was whether it was better to cut fat or cut calories. The answer was...cut calories! And it's so true.

Now there's a new study that cutting calories matters more than what style of diet you follow (low-fat, low-carb, etc.). Read about the study here: Study Finds Calories Count More. In fact, the key really is to find a diet that works for you, that you can stick to, and that creates a calorie deficit.

Two gurus I follow didn't need this study to know this is true. The first, Michael Pollan, is a writer for the NYT and author of some fantastic books like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food." Pollan points out that Americans have been advised to eat more low fat foods, more fruits, and more vegetables. In fact, he thinks it would have been better advice to tell people to eat LESS meat and animal fats. Because what happened? Well people took the same diet they had all along, and ADDED low fat foods to it. So while they lowered their fat intake as a percentage of their total calories, they also added calories. And so they gained weight.

The other guru, professional trainer and Men's Health contributor Craig Ballantyne, has the mantra, "You can't out-train a bad diet." Boy do I wish someone had given me this advice early on. I can't ennumerate how many times I justified ordering a cheesesteak and french fries by thinking about how I'd stuck to my workout plan for the week. And guess what? It didn't matter how hard I worked...my calorie intake always got in the way.

So when I started SERIOUSLY trying to lose weight, the simple fact is that diet was a huge help. I cut an average of 500 calories per day from my weekly intake. At the beginning, I did this by having a "diet shake" for breakfast, soup and salad for lunch, and a sensible dinner. Lots of people are successful this way, and I was too. I lost ten pounds in two months, going from 135 to 125. Clearly, cutting calories works. If you are having trouble getting motivated to exercise, or feel like your exercises aren't intense enough to lose weight, or maybe are struggling with injury, DON'T WORRY. Sure exercise will help your progress, but diet will help even more. So create a reasonable calorie deficit that won't leave you starving (and cheating). Ladies, that means don't go below 1200 calories per day, on average.

Start with diet, get that down, and then move on to exercise to increase the speed with which you get results, and improve your overall health.

I feel compelled to say that I don't have diet shakes, salads and soups every day now. In fact, I lost the last 10 pounds after making some more changes to my diet later that worked even better for me than my initial approach. I'll talk about them in a future post.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Success Strategy #1: Accountability

I started my fitness and health quest on June 15, 2008. The first success strategy I used was accountability.

I found a friend (my neighbor) who was also interested in exercising, and made a commitment to go running with her every morning before work. I knew that she'd be getting up early and waiting for me outside our houses, so I was less likely to hit snooze and go back to bed. I didn't want to stand her up!

At work, I told a few people what I was doing, and a few of us created a mini-contest. Rather than having a "Biggest Loser" contest, which doesn't work well for people with different fitness goals, we each documented the goals we wanted to achieve by a target date. Our target date was August 15, 2008, and my goal was to weigh 125 pounds by that date. Someone else in the group wanted to lose 1" from their waist. Another person wanted to gain 5 pounds of muscle.

We checked in with each other on a regular basis. Knowing that these people I saw every day at work for going to say, "hey, did you do your run this morning?" or "how are you doing on your goals" was great motivation to make sure the answer was one I would be proud of.

Although I didn't meet my goal by my target date (weighed in at 126 on 8/15, and it took until 8/20 to reach my goal), I stayed on track.

If you're starting out:
Set a SPECIFIC GOAL against which you will be held accountable
TELL someone about your goal
SCHEDULE your exercises
Find a FRIEND who expects you to exercise on your schedule

These tips helped me. I hope they help you too!

Wake up call!!!

"Well, that's not even a picture of you," you say! "That's a picture of your son." Ah, but that's the beauty of it. In June 2008, we took a family trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I purchased a bikini on that vacation, thinking I looked pretty good (you know, for a mom), and was going to just be happy with who I was and what I had.
So I put on a bikini, strutted out to the beach, and played with my kids. My husband even remembered to pick up the camera and snap a few pictures...including this one. And when I saw it, I thought, "look at those fat legs." SNAP! Oh my goodness...those were MY fat legs. I was mortified. I actually wore a bikini, looking like that? Once again, a picture of my kids was ruined by my image being in there with them.
Funny how seeing yourself in the mirror can be SO different from seeing yourself in a picture. After this trip, I made a commitment that I would start exercising regularly and eating healthier.

Before I began...

I suppose I should start by saying that I've always been thin. Well, I've always had a larger-than average chest, but I had a small waist to go along with it. Growing up, in college, after college...thin. I wasn't the athletic type, preferring horseback riding and dancing to things like softball and field hockey. But I was in decent shape. I never was a serious dieter or struggled with my weight.

I weighed 117 (I'm 5'1") when I became pregnant with my daughter. Three years later, when I became pregnant with my son, I was 134 -- the same weight I was in the 24th week of my first pregnancy. Clearly, I never lost the "baby weight." In fact, it would take me more than 6 years to reclaim that low of a weight.

So let's fast forward a bit...back in November 2007, we went to Disneyworld as a family. I had weaned my son (about 18 months old) a few months earlier, and the weight I lost while nursing was slowly creeping back on. It was only once I got home and looked at our pictures that I was horrified by my appearance. The result? I never printed the pictures and put them in my kids autograph books. I mean...who can compete with Sleeping Beauty, right?

But even then, I was in denial. A few months earlier I bought those cute size 6 khakis I was wearing in the picture, excited about how well I'd done losing the pregnancy weight. After seeing these pictures, I packed them away and switched to my "normal" clothes, which were ready and waiting for me in my closet. Wearing size-appropriate clothes masked the problem, and helped me go on with my life unquestioningly.

What's interesting about it, to me, is that no one I knew really treated me like my size was unusual or large. I was "normal." At least, I was normal for someone who'd had two kids, had a full-time job, and very little extra time in her life for things like good nutrition and working out. I was doing the best I could, and no one faulted me for that.

So my journey didn't start here. No, this picture wasn't quite enough to give me a wake-up call to improve my health. I'll show you the one that was in my next post.