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When was the last time you got out of your culinary comfort zone? The start of the New Year is a perfect time to look at your habits with fresh eyes and attempt to try something new. Today I ventured out of my food shopping routine and visited Reliable Market, an Asian grocery shop in Union Square, Somerville. I had already gathered necessary ingredients to make this Post-punk Kitchen curry udon recipe, but hadn’t been able to find the udon noodles during my usual trip to Trader Joe’s. At Reliable Market, I found the udon (big, chewy, Japanese noodles) plus a bunch of other fun additions to my kitchen. I brought home a few bags of dried shitake mushrooms ($.99 a piece), teriyaki-flavored seaweed snacks, and some matcha green tea powder—another ingredient that had eluded me during trips to mainstream stores in the past.

Besides the healthy, bargain deals, just the act of wandering around an unfamiliar environment, looking at different types of produce, spices, and sauces, was enough to make me feel refreshed and inspired.

Curry Udon

udon curry stir fry

I made my beautiful curry udon stir fry, with the shitake mushrooms, as well as broccoli, red pepper, and tofu. I always try to add in as many veggies as possible when it comes to stir fries, an easy way to get a big serving of vegetables in one delicious meal.

I’m in love with the teriyaki seaweed snacks, and looking forward to going back to Reliable and picking up more. They had about 30 different kinds of seaweed snacks at this store! There are only 10 calories in 10 flavorful, crunchy strips of seaweed, as well as 50% of your daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A. And, medical journals like Nutritional Reviews have shown sea vegetables to be high in many essential vitamins and minerals like iodine, copper, and zinc. Make sure you read the labels of seaweed snacks, though, as some contain MSG.

I also made a matcha green tea smoothie, blending my new matcha powder 

Matcha green tea smoothie

(1 tbsp.), with 1 cup of hemp milk, 1 tbsp. of honey and a few ice cubes. A refreshing alternative to iced coffee, and high in cancer-preventing polyphenols.

 

Have you tried any new foods or places to shop lately? If you’re interested in visiting in the Reliable Market, or other interesting ethnic shops in the Somerville area, check out Nibble, a new blog by the Somerville Arts Council, highlighting recipes and ingredients from local shops. Go explore!

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This weekend I got a new tiara – and ran my personal best time in the Disney Princess Half Marathon, cutting out 15 minutes from my last race. Everything about this experience was wonderful, from spending time with my team, to Cinderella and Jasmine and Belle along the course, to my friends cheering me on at the end. It was truly wonderful.

The Disney Princess Half Marathon was full of pink, sparkle, and magic. I think that’s what Disney is so good at – creating an experience. I honestly couldn’t help but feel the magic of this weekend, everything was so perfectly set up and beautiful. The race was full of whimsy. I ran the entire race wearing a tiara, a pink, sparkle skirt over my running tights, and sparkly fairy dust in my hair. And I felt beautiful, too!

The course itself was set up to be fun. We ran through Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, and then all around Disney property before making our way back to Epcot. There were fireworks at the starting line, before each corral, which was a really exciting way to start. Water stops occurred at about each mile, and in between each water stop was some exciting form of entertainment, including a band (which played Journey as I ran by), characters in costume, exhibits (hello, Pirates of the Caribbean ship), drum lines, and a gospel choir at the very end. As I ran through Cinderella’s castle, trumpeters on the balcony majestically announced my arrival. The best part was the very end, where my friends from university were waiting to cheer me across the finish line. They even made me a sign!

Now that I’ve run two half marathons this year, I know that I can do anything. This race was all about feeling empowered as a woman – empowered to train hard and achieve a feat of extreme difficulty, to believe in the astonishing power of my physical ability, to love my body, to make changes in my life and to really live the way I want. As much as Disney World is a constructed experience, there is one thing that transfers back into reality, and that is: if you really want something, and you practice and dream, anything is possible. I am a woman who has come unbelievable distances this year – and I don’t just mean miles – and who has many more steps to take. And just knowing that I can accomplish what I set out to do, well, that is enough to take me just about anywhere. It’s easy to doubt and question, but all it takes is a moment like this to remind me just how strong I can be.

– Hannah

I recently started a list of “101 in 1001” which is essentially a list of 101 goals to complete in 1001 days.  While this started shortly after the New Year, it is decidedly NOT a New Year’s resolution-esque in that the list consists of tangible, smaller achievable goals within the next 3 years or so.  Such as: learn to cook chicken (I know… I’m a horrible cook), try rock climbing, ski Tuckerman’s, read a book per month, etc. 

After a particularly draining weekend (that involved wading through 5 ½ feet of snow in the backwoods of upstate New York in a failed attempt to actually ski that powder… but that’s another story there), I decided to tackle my goal of “Go to yoga more often,” by finding a class at Healthworks that fit into my schedule: a 4:00 Sunday afternoon class.  This goal was prompted by my orthopedist’s suggestion, who noted my relative inflexibility and the benefits for me, as a runner who is apparently prone to injury, of getting my allotted stretching and toning time in.  I have been to yoga classes, and for a period of time in my life I would go fairly regularly, probably 1-2 times a week, but in the past couple years this activity has dramatically fallen to the wayside.  As a cardio-addict, I will admit that the spiritual level of yoga escapes me, and I gravitate toward the deep stretching, challenging positions, and continual flow of certain yoga classes. 

I guess in my race to accomplish my goal, I didn’t fully read the yoga class description.  As it turns out, this was not the Power Yoga or Hatha Yoga to which I was accustomed.  If I had read more carefully, I would have seen that Vinyasa Yoga is “a flowing style of yoga that deeply integrates breath and movement, awareness and alignment, and stability and flexibility. Thoughtful sequencing and moderate pacing keep the body gracefully engaged and stimulate mindful focus.”

I won’t lie.  For the first 10 minutes, I considered leaving.  I was ready to get past all the sitting and breathing precursors.  I wanted to do some downward dogs and sun salutations.  Where was the flow?  But then… I guess I just let go of all my body hang-ups and focused (it helped that the instructor had a really soothing voice and instructive narrative).  And it just started to click.  In this class, I slowed down, really sank into those stretches, and focused on my breathing.  My mind went elsewhere, and I didn’t care that this probably wasn’t a huge calorie burning session. 

It also dawned on me that I’ve been tired.  Like, really really mentally and physically tired.  I run around from 6 am to 8 pm on the weekdays.  On the weekend, I have (too many) social obligations, plus catching up with mundane tasks.  Plus, recently, I’ve been faced with some really life-changing decisions, which, while absolutely positive, have replaced the space in my brain that used to think about other things.  Even getting to a yoga class on a Sunday afternoon (after having taken Sunday morning spin) was tiring.  My mind is on a continual loop of checklists and to-do’s.  (Yoga mat?  Sports bra?  Tights?  Gas in car?  check.  check.  check.  check.)

After the class, I felt comfortable in my body, quiet in my mind.  It was a good way to end a Sunday.  I’ll be sure to do it again. 

 – Joanna

Ever since I joined four months ago I have been watching the women in the Zumba class having  a great time. I love to dance. In fact, it is the only kind of exercise that I have done voluntarily. However, I didn’t feel that I would be able to keep up, so didn’t join. My commitment to exercise was so tenuous at first, that I didn’t want to jeopardize it by doing anything that would make me feel bad about myself. So, I promised myself that by my birthday I would be ready to take a Zumba class. Today is that day. 

 

A Zumba class in full swing!

I am still a bit nervous and I am certainly not looking forward to watching myself in the mirror. (My workout clothes show every bulge!) I am also a bit afraid about being judged by the other women. I wish I could wear a sign saying “I’ve lost 45 pounds and know I’ve still got a long way to go.” I know this is stupid and most people are not here to judge others, but it still worries me a bit. I am also nervous about not being able to do all the moves. If we have to get on the floor, forget it! Getting my 200+ pounds up and down without hanging on to something is difficult and awkward to say the least.

I am hoping if Zumba works out, I will start taking other classes. I think this will be one of the best ways for me to get my exercise in. My doctor has me working toward a goal of 7 hours of exercise a week. Classes would help a lot. I’ll write later and tell you how I did.

– Cheryl

One of my serious obstacles during my last half marathon in September was that even though I trained a lot, I never really knew exactly how far I was running. When race day finally came, I was actually more unprepared than I had thought I would be. Two weeks before the race, I ran what I thought was 12 miles (according to a website I use to map all my distances), so running 13.1 should have been a breeze. But it wasn’t! In fact, the race was brutally painful. I came to the conclusion that I never really knew how far I was going.

I have some pretty cool running gear. I recently succumbed to peer pressure and bought a Nike+ SportBand; so many of my friends have them, and it seemed like a really useful tool to have. Basically, the SportBand is a fancy pedometer – but it’s so much more! With the SportBand, I’ve been able to calculate my distances better. It also tells me my pace, which is crucial information.

This past weekend, I really pushed myself. After all, race day is in T-13 days (yikes!) and I really want to feel good about this race. I was visiting a friend in Toronto, and didn’t know the area very well, so I just started running and kept on going. It’s interesting to look at the Nike+ data after a run.

A snapshot of my results

From the website, I can see that I started out pretty strong, but slowed way down once I hit some hills, and really slowed down by the end of the run. In fact, I slowed so much that my overall pace was dragged down. From this, I’m getting that I need to be more consistent in my run. Instead of starting too fast, I need to be a little more even in my pacing, so that I can prevent myself from hitting that dreaded wall (and I definitely hit it last week. It’s terrible, my muscles freeze up and my legs feel like 100 tons of bricks).

– Hannah

Pumping iron in the AM

In the middle of the bicep track during Body Pump recently, I had a thought.  I was smiling out at thirty women pumping iron to rock music at six in the morning, and I wondered whether people in their lives—people they encounter outside the gym—know about their secret Body Pump life.  Do the people they work with know how good they are at push-ups?  Do their children know how they endure five minutes of squats, working their legs until they shake under the weight of the bar? It probably seems like a strange thing to wonder about.  But imagine the super hero who wears regular street clothes, walking around completely unnoticed until something requires that super-human strength be revealed to everyone’s awe and amazement!

You laugh, yet I see this in the women who take my Body Pump class.  I see how hard they work, how they wake up so early it’s still dark outside, and how they sweat through lunges and chest presses.  They grit their teeth and heave 25-pound bars over their heads.  They are tough—and determined each week to do more dips or hold a longer plank. 

 I doubt they show off their hard-earned muscles, but those toned triceps and defined deltoids are there – hiding under sweaters and business suits as these gals go about the rest of their days with energy gained from a challenging morning workout.  When strength is needed, they’ll be ready. I wish I could give them each a cape and some shiny silver boots!

– Sarah

Deb walked into basic step class for the first time one Monday night nearly five years ago when I taught in Minnesota. She had never been to a gym, and she had never taken a group fitness class.  I greeted her when she introduced herself and told me that her doctor had cleared her for exercise.  She explained that she needed to lose 100 pounds, and she would start by taking my class. When I gave Deb a quick overview of class, she nodded and looked around the studio nervously.  I pointed to where the step benches were stacked, and she said, “Well, I don’t think I can use a bench yet, but I can do the moves just with my feet—in the back of the room.  And I don’t know if I’ll make it the whole hour.”

No one had ever taken my step class without actually using the step, so I had no idea what to expect.  All I knew is that Deb’s revelation about not being able to lift her legs onto that bench made me realize the long journey she had ahead of her.  I realized Deb’s incredible bravery and her determination to make a serious change in her life. Deb’s first class was scary for me as an instructor because I worried when her face turned bright pink and when she stopped frequently to wipe her brow with the sweat towel.  But she kept her feet moving the whole time.  She completed the entire class.  I was ever so proud of someone I just met.  All she said was, “I’ll be back!”

When Deb showed up again the next week, I was thrilled.  So often, women take that first step of entering the gym, a place that can feel intimidating or awkward, and they’ve already crossed an enormous hurdle, but then something painful or embarrassing happens which prevents them from returning.  Difficult as it must have been for Deb, she kept coming back.  She kept doing step class without a bench, and she always smiled on her way out the door.  Funny enough, my mom was the instructor who took over teaching my basic step class when I moved to Boston.  Every so often, I would ask her about Deb, waiting for the day my mom would tell me she used that step bench for the very first time.

I’ve lost track of Deb since my mom retired from teaching.  But I will not forget her—how great her goal was and how much heart she put into achieving it.  Sometimes as I open the front door to the gym, I remember her and how inspired I am by the fact that she isn’t afraid to keep opening that door. 

– Sarah

I’ve had a bad couple of weeks. Despite my success, my initial enthusiasm is waning and I am afraid I may slowly give up.  I am still sticking to my eating plan, but I find myself less than scrupulous about writing down the amounts of everything I eat.  I’m also not measuring the way I was and am more likely to approximate the amount—even in my own kitchen where I can easily be exact. Exercise is also suffering. According to my plan, I am supposed to be at the gym 5 times a week.  I never miss my two training sessions but the other three visits have not materialized.  I usually go only 3 times. The scale is also not helping.  I know it is a fickle friend. That’s why I have been trying to focus more on accomplishing the goals I have total control of, but I realize now what a great motivator my consistent losses have been.

Last week I hit 218 and then the next day it went right back to 220! I was devastated and it took a week to get it back to 218. I know. I know. I started this post saying that I was slipping. Surely that is the reason for the lack of weight loss. But there was no way that my “slips” added up to the 7,000 extra calories that would equal a two pound gain. It seemed so unfair.

So now I’m at 216 and feeling somewhat better. However, those two weeks made me realize that my hold on all of these life changes is tenuous indeed.  So, I’m still scared. Scared I’ll give up just as I have so many times before. Scared I’ll start backsliding little by little. Scared I’ll rationalize all those tiny slips. You often read that it takes three months of consistent work to establish a new habit such as exercise. I now realize that, for me, it will probably take much longer.  My initial enthusiasm has often carried me this far. When it wanes, I crash and burn. 

Maybe I should start counting my three months from now. Three months of not wanting to go, but going anyway. Three months of not wanting to be vigilant about measuring and recording food, but doing it anyway.  Perhaps, it takes three difficult months to establish a habit—not the easy, breezy three months I have just experienced.

– Cheryl

I am a goal-setter, but I have never been particularly good at working toward them for very long. In the past, when I began a weight-loss program, I set goals about the amount of weight would lose and how quickly I would lose it. At first, this worked okay, but after a while the scale would stop cooperating and I would get discouraged. This time, however, I decided to set goals based on the two facets of the program that were under my control—how much and what I ate and how much I moved.

For example, I have a lot of physical activity goals. When I started exercising, I really wanted to take classes but was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up.  I didn’t want to feel embarrassed if I couldn’t keep moving (and frankly was unsure about how I would feel with a constant view of myself in the mirror.) So, I decided to make classes a future goal.

For me, another aspect of achieving goals is anticipating them, so I thought it would be good if I chose a particular class as my first goal. Since I often found myself in the lobby looking on jealously at the Zumba class, (dancing is the only type of movement that I have ever looked forward to doing) I set myself a goal of taking a Zumba class for my 61st birthday.  As further encouragement, my trainer, Bonnie, agreed to go with me. That goal is now just two weeks away. I’m much fitter than I was when I started though I am still unsure if I can keep more for 60 minutes and we might just do the express class. I’ll be sure to post about my experience.

I find these kinds of goals useful.  At New Year’s I wrote a plan for the year incorporating lots of physical activity goals. For example, in April I am supposed to be buying a bicycle and trying a spin class (that will have to be express!) In July, I plan/hope to incorporate Gravity (We’ll see.) I have started anticipating my bicycle goal. I’m a bit scared because I haven’t been on a bike in 15 years. I don’t want to waste my money on a bike I won’t use, so I plan to rent a bike first in order to make sure I can still balance. 

 – Cheryl

What helps you achieve your fitness goals?

Over the course of the last year, I’ve lost a lot of weight. It’s something that I worked really hard for, and am really proud of – and it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do. My main strategy, until now, has mainly focused on exercise – I figured that if I just moved my body much more, the weight would come off, regardless of what I ate. And to a certain point, this has been true. I mean, if you go from a relatively sedentary lifestyle to exercising four or five times a week, something is going to happen.

Then I hit a plateau. This has been incredibly frustrating for me. I had achieved such success through exercise, and even though I was pushing my workouts as hard as ever, I just wasn’t losing weight anymore. I wasn’t gaining weight, either, which was reassuring. But I’m still overweight, and I have a lot more to lose before I have reached my goal. I set out to change my life and I’m sure not going to give up half way.

Although I’ve known this all along, I have recently come to terms with the fact that I have to get my eating under control. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 15 years, so while I do eat a lot of veggies, I also love: anything fried, beer, chocolate. It’s not that I would eat those things every single day, but I will admit that I consume much more of those foods than I should. I am also a classic emotional eater: mashed potatoes are just so homey and comforting after a fight or a stressful day. I know this about myself, and I’m trying to let it go.

livestrong.com's nifty diet journal

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying out a new technology. I’ve been counting my calories through the livestrong.com website, and I have to say, it’s much easier and far less tedious than I thought! The site lets you track what you’ve eaten, how much water you drink, and what kind of exercise you do throughout the day. The point is, even if you don’t count your calories, really thinking about what goes into your body is a helpful mental exercise. I’ve been focusing on the kinds of foods I eat as well as portion size (I mean, as healthy as almonds are, they are also high in fat and calories). I’ve been journaling for 2 weeks, and with my workouts I can already see myself losing weight quicker.

What tools do you use to keep track of your diet?

– Hannah