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I never get sick of oatmeal. I might go through brief interludes of interest in switching it up with scrambled eggs or a breakfast sandwich, but for the most part oatmeal and I stick together like glue every morning. I switch it up with a cold variation like bircher-muesli in the summer, and in the fall and winter I love having a hot bowl in the morning, always with toppings. To me, it’s the perfect breakfast food. The health benefits are undeniable–oatmeal has been found to lower cholesterol, and provides energy in complex carbohydrates with lots of soluble fiber to stabilize your blood sugar. It’s also inexpensive–I like to buy a jumbo box of plain, old-fashioned oats, which has about 30 servings and costs around $3-4. None of the pre-packaged, sugary packets for me, thanks. My long-time standby mix-ins for hot oatmeal have included chopped apples, cinnamon, honey, and nuts.
Lately I’ve tried some other varieties that I thought I’d share. First off, I usually mix my oats with half milk and half water. I recently discovered the joy of using hemp milk from Trader Joe’s in this mix. Their hemp milk provides almost half your daily serving of Omega-3 ALA fats–those healthy fats you need for a healthy functioning brain and heart. The fat and protein the hemp milk provides makes for an extra creamy bowl of oats, and I find that it really helps to keep me full for longer.
Along with hemp milk I’ve tried a few new add-ins:
The Thanksgiving-season appropriate Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal, with:
- 1/4 cup canned pumpkin (plain, not sweetened)
- Pumpkin pie spices: ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon, adjusted to your taste preference. I like a lot of ginger in mine.
- Drizzle of honey
- Chopped walnuts
I scoop the pumpkin in with the uncooked oatmeal and hemp milk and heat it up all together (about 4 minutes in the microwave), and then add on the toppings and an extra splash of milk once its cooled a little.
My other new favorite variety involves:
- 2 tbsp dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
- dried cranberries
- chopped walnuts
- drizzle of maple syrup
This variation came out of using what I had on hand in the pantry, and just happened to come together fabulously. It might be my favorite variety to date.
I am the daughter of a breast cancer survivor. I am the daughter-in-law of a breast cancer survivor. I am the sister-in-law of two breast cancer survivors. I am a personal friend of a breast cancer survivor. I am the professional friend of a breast cancer survivor. I am the godchild of a breast cancer non-survivor.
We all know what it feels like to create such a list for ourselves. Women of all ages, races, religions, social and economic groups are affected by this disease. Many of us may, one day, be forced to address the same questions, fears and life-altering choices that women are facing every day. That moment when we feel the lump, get called back with a questionable spot on a mammogram, notice a strange and unexplained symptom, are forced to learn about the rare, and often fatal, Inflammatory Breast Cancer.
And so …
As we find ourselves in the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I hope that you have committed yourself, in some meaningful way, to this very worthy cause of raising funds in the name research and patient care & support. There are myriad ways to make physical, financial and emotional donations. Three years ago, when I chose to participate in the Avon 2 Day Walk for Breast Cancer, I asked two friends to join me on the adventure. One agreed enthusiastically and whole-heartedly to walk by my side. The other simply and honestly said, “I don’t walk, but I do write checks”. May we all look at the women who surround us each day – at work, at the school bus stops, at the health club, at the supermarket, at our own family get-togethers – and may we recognize that any one of those women may at some point have an intimate relationship with the phrase, “breast cancer”.
Take a moment to explore what is possible for you. And then take action. Let your heart guide the steps you take. Do you want to walk, to ride, to volunteer or to write a check? You choose.
If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought about the Tufts 10K for Women, I would have told you that it’s annoying that they close of Memorial Drive on Columbus Day and you can’t get around Boston where you want to. But last year, as I started pushing myself to run more and I found new challenges to take on, I registered for the race. (Well, I convinced my friend to register for the race, was too chicken to actually register myself, and then had to pay the late entry fee when I got there because I couldn’t let her do it alone when it was my idea in the first place.)
Today was my second time running this race and I have to say, it’s amazing and inspiring. It is not only extremely well-organized and planned out, but it is just fun. I love their slogan – Start strong; finish stronger. I love the route from the Boston Common through Back Bay, down Memorial Drive, across the Longfellow Bridge and back down Mass. Ave. But I also love being surrounded by 7000 other women doing the same thing that I’m doing.
I never really think about being surrounded by strong, healthy women and how much that pushes me to continue on my own fitness journey, but today I was struck by the camaraderie that comes with sharing goals and common celebration. Around mile 5, when I hit a slump, a woman in a green tank top came up beside me and said, “Come on, you can do it.” She was right; I could. That was the little push I needed to get me past my (mostly mental) wall and to the finish line.
I certainly didn’t set any personal records today, but I did accomplish a goal and I reminded myself what I need to do to keep at it. Here’s hoping that while I keep going in my weight-loss journey, I keep getting the little pushes that I need to remind me that I can do it. Thanks to that girl in the green top, if you happen to see this – I’m going to keep you in mind next time I’m feeling too lazy to pack my gym bag, make a healthy dinner, or treat myself well.
Recently one of my Back Bay Healthworks class participants came up after class to thank me for that morning’s workout. I’m proud to report that this isn’t uncommon. People often give me a “thank you” shout out on their way out the door, and it’s a fabulous farewell until we meet to workout together again.
But this thank you was different. This wonderful woman, who always comes into the studio with a smile on her face, stopped for a minute after class to tell me how much she appreciates that I squeeze a tough workout into a 30-minute class and that I change things up all the time. It meant so much to me that she took the time to let me know. And it means the world to me to know that those 30 minutes make a difference.
Ultimately, I appreciate that she comes to class–that she finds time in her busy schedule to make it to the gym. I am happy to see everyone who comes to class and exercises. Thank goodness for all of the people doing something good for themselves by moving their bodies! One of my coworkers came to Body Pump for the first time not long ago, and she complained of sore muscles for three days afterward. Unpleasant? Sure. But my hope is that she will quickly start to see the very pleasant benefits of her hard work and will get hooked on the exercise. She took a chance on coming to my class, and I know it wasn’t a small deal, but I suspect she may even have had some fun!
So, you can bet I’ll be bugging my coworker to come back for Body Pump-round 2, and I can promise everyone in my morning classes that I’ll be working on new moves to challenge them in that quick half hour we have before the rest of the day takes over.
I had a new experience last Friday night. My friend Carolyn had organized a small group for drinks and snacks—a fun weekend gathering. When I met up with everyone, I found Carolyn’s friends and colleagues as charming and interesting as usual, and we all quickly started chatting. As can happen when a table full of medical professionals, gym instructors and fitness-conscious individuals come together, the conversation turned to recent news of obesity epidemics and health concerns. There was much discussion over the high percentage of Americans who are obese, about the enormous portions served in American restaurants, and about the lack of pedestrian-friendly cities in the U.S.
It was at this point in the conversation that I realized I was one of only two Americans at the table, and I had the unique opportunity to hear the observations of my acquaintances from Singapore, Greece, and Morocco. One of the women noted how accustomed she has become to her large coffee with cream and Splenda each morning. Now, when she visits her home country, she is surprised by the tiny coffee cups and notices the normal servings of everything from coffee to dinner entrees in Morocco seem small compared to the average in the U.S. I really could not refute any of the negative commentary about Americans’ eating habits, because the observations were scarily true about the enormous frozen coffee drinks packed with sugar, the gigantic platters of nachos and fried finger food for appetizers, and desserts large enough to satisfy the entire group seated around our table. Of course the problem is, because we are so used to the more-is-better portions, we are often not satisfied with less, or smaller, or what is actually appropriate. None of this is news, but it struck me anew when told from a different perspective.
I began feeling a little depressed, honestly. I felt proud knowing that the two American representatives in this wonderful mix of nationalities were both healthy, fit examples of people who enjoy life in moderation. But I suddenly felt weighed down by the huge task in front of us as a nation of food-lovers. I realized again the long road ahead of many people who join the gym after years of over-indulging. It’s a lot of work to get back in shape, and it’s even harder work to shed pounds and change long-standing habits. But we need to do it. It’s important and, though it can definitely be made more fun with fabulous music and a motivated group of fellow exercisers in the studio, we do all need to get to work!
On this day I am grateful to my mother who always served colorful meals with lots of fruits and veggies (on small dinner plates), who locked us out of the house and told us to run around in the yard as children, and who recently put herself through rigorous fitness testing so she can improve her health. I have learned from the best!
Last weekend I watched Food Inc. for the first time, a documentary that came out in 2008 (I’m a little behind) which goes behind “the veil” of the food industry, exposing a lot about the way our food is produced and how sick it can potentially make us. A lot of the information wasn’t new to me, having read Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (both are great sources of information on these subjects). But watching footage from the film really reinforced the importance of this subject for me. I was aghast to see some of the facts and figures on the screen, which included the startling number of children born after 2000 who are likely to contract the largely preventable early onset type II Diabetes as one in three. Among minorities the number is likely to be one in two! If you haven’t seen Food Inc. already, I urge you to rent it and start to get acquainted with some facts about the American food system. There are a lot of choices that we can make as individuals to help with the burden that the current system places on our environment, our tax dollars, and our bodies. One of the ways we can help is to eat a more vegetarian diet. While I’ve only been eating meat very sparingly already, I decided that from now on I’m going to renew my commitment to sticking mostly vegetarian, and when I do eat meat, choosing animal products that are organic, grass fed, and not processed in a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). That being said, everyone’s diet and beliefs are very personal, and I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel badly about their choices. But if you are interested in going meatless more often, know that there are a bevy of great cookbooks, recipe blogs, etc. that offer tons of vegetarian recipes, with no shortage of flavor and variety. Below is a black bean burger recipe to help get you started:
Black Bean Burgers
2 cups cooked black beans
1 tbsp. tomato paste
½ cup bread crumbs
1 whole egg + whites from another egg
½ finely chopped onion
2 gloves minced garlic
2 tsps. Chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
Optional add ins:
¼ cup corn kernels
½ diced, cooked red bell pepper
Smash black beans in a bowl, using a fork, until they are mostly smooshed (for lack of better description). Add in the rest of the ingredients and gently stir until combined. Form six patties by dividing the mixture, rolling into balls and gently pressing flat. Cook over medium heat in a large pan, about 5 minutes on each side.
Top with delicious healthy ingredients like sliced avocado, salsa, tomato, lettuce, and red onions, and serve on a whole wheat bun. Who needs McDonalds??
I think it must be true what they (whoever they are) say about stress weakening your defenses. I have been sick so many times this year, it’s a little ridiculous. I woke up last week with two pink eyes (I get pink eye more than any adult I know) and a terribly painful sinus infection. Luckily for me, this past week has been spring break and I’ve had a chance to recover.
I tried to run with my dog before I was completely better. I wasn’t feeling terrible (just not quite right), and the weather was so lovely that I just felt the need to go outside. Plus, it’s always exciting to put on a running outfit and lace my shoes up; it’s like the start of a great adventure. I made it about 1/2 a mile before my dog needed a potty break. When I stopped, though, I felt dizzy. Really dizzy! And then I felt like I might vomit. The next day I decided to try again, with far greater success. Granted, I was going pretty slowly, but at least it didn’t end up with me puking in the bushes.
I’ve decided that I need to do something to lower my stress levels. I’ve been learning lately that I don’t handle my stress very well, and it clearly isn’t healthy for me. I am sick and tired of feeling sick so often. Here is what I’ve decided to do:
- Exercise: I always feel better after a workout, or at the very least after a walk outside. Exercise helps to get out some of my anxiety in a healthy way. Plus, it breaks up the day.
- Eat better: It’s like a catch 22 – when I’m stressed or upset, I like to eat junk food. Eating junk food makes me feel gross, which makes me more anxious. I’m glad to enjoy a nice piece of dark chocolate, but I always feel so much better when I eat right.
- Do something relaxing: I’ve got a gift card to Healthworks – and I am SO getting a massage. Yes!
- Stay in touch: talking to friends and family is a good way to vent and process stress.
Do you have any tricks for staying on top of stress levels?
I had to go to the dentist this week: Ick. Of course I love how squeaky clean my teeth feel after my appointment, but the dread leading up to my visit and the potential pain which can occur during the visit always seem to detract from the positive outcome I will eventually enjoy. And now that I’m thirty, my gums have decided to revolt. No matter how much I try to be a good little flosser, and no matter how well I follow the periodontist’s directions, I can’t seem to get my hygienist to give me an ‘A’ (other than for effort) grade at my appointments.
This kind of frustration is something I’ve heard women express about their gym experience. They feel like they do the right thing by going to the gym and watching their diets, but they just don’t see the results they were expecting. When working out feels like a chore, it is that much more frustrating when the benefits fail to appear. I know people give up for this very reason – they have very little time to exercise, it’s not enjoyable, and they don’t see any change – so they quit. When I’m tired, and all I want to do is go to sleep, the last thing I want to do is spend ten minutes going through my gum-care regimen. But I have kept at it. I am determined that next time I go to the dentist, they will give me a gold star and, even better, I’ll have a healthier smile.
It’s the same with the gym. I know it’s not always fun, and the results may not be immediately visible, but good things ARE happening. Our bodies are getting healthier and stronger. There are hidden benefits, and it’s only a matter of time before they show. Plus, I always say, if your workout isn’t fun, come to a class – we’ll make it fun. I’ll smile all the way through class with my clean white teeth!
In the last blog I said that I was going to attend my first class and report back. Well I’m happy to say that the Zumba class was the most fun I’ve had doing anything that could be called exercise. I sweated and smiled for a whole hour–certainly a first for me. The class was taught by Iliana whose energy is positively contagious. Her manner and the Latin beat would make even the most confirmed couch potato get up and move. I also very much enjoyed her friendly open manner. We all wore name tags and she definitely fostered a real feeling of community in the class.
Most importantly I could do it. I lasted for the whole hour. Each of the approximately 10 songs we danced to had about 4 different moves, that weren’t difficult to learn and with plenty of repetition, I was (mostly) able to keep up. Some of the steps were quite quick, so sometimes I did three steps to her four, but I still got a good workout.
I had my heart rate monitor on and glanced at it from time to time. It was mostly about 130–good enough for me–especially since it stayed up there for an hour. I am now busy looking for other dance type classes. I realize I’ve found my niche. I’m going to dance myself thin. I’m so happy to have a fun alternative to the dreaded elliptical and treadmill. I won’t give up the stepmill. Even though I hate it, you get a lot of bang for your buck on that one. I highly recommend Iliana’s class at Back Bay on Thursdays at 9:30 am.
I’m off to Florida to see my mom tomorrow morning. All on my own–no doctor, no trainer, no gym–we’ll see how I do. (Of course, I will have my mom who at 84 is still hopeful that I will lose weight!