Saturday, November 30, 2013

Don't Judge a Workout by it's Covergirl

The other night I happened upon a stranger's fitness blog while I should have been doing the dishes. The blogger is a huge barre fan from another part of the country and had reviewed a host of far-from-me studios I'd love to try. I was grooving on this blog, thinking I had met a soulmate, until I read something along the lines of the following: "Instructor X had a smokin' hot bod and wow, is that inspiring. Anyone who tells you she doesn't judge a workout by the instructor's body is lying. If you see the instructor is overweight, you instantly ask yourself, am I wasting my time?"

Oh, Stranger Blogger, we were so close to workout synchronicity... then you lost me. Now, I don't mean to pick on Stranger Blogger (even though, let's face it, I am), but really, I couldn't disagree more. Maybe years ago I would have nodded my head in assent to the above statement, but I can now honestly say that I do NOT judge a workout by the instructor's body. Especially since I met Tracy Anderson.

Half of you are wondering who is this Tracy Anderson? And the other half are thinking I must be way cool and connected to have actually met Tracy Anderson. No, I have not met Miss Tracy. No, I'm neither that cool nor connected.

Tracy Anderson is workout guru to Gwyneth Paltrow. (Return to the rock under which you have been living if you haven't heard of her.) These days it seems fitness people need to have a celebrity in their pockets if they expect to make it in this cut-throat world, and Gwyn is firmly installed in Tracy's pocket.
Gwyn and Tracy on one of Tracy's contraptions.
I always work it in heels and a cocktail dress. Don't you?

Gwyn claims that her body had gone to hell in a handbasket after she birthed her second child.  Apparently the lovely, statuesque, thin-as-a-rail Gwyneth looked just awful under her designer clothes, so much so that when Tracy saw her saggy bum she wishes she had taken a picture to show the before-and-after transformation. After a few months of hopping around her posh London home and contorting herself into crazy positions in which she did endless repetitions, Tracy totally transformed Gwyn from beautiful-film-star-with-saggy-bum into beautiful-film-star-with-perky bum.

Gwyneth was so enamoured with said transformation that she went into business with Tracy, whom she calls a 'genius.' Tracy went from kind of a crackpot with a history of shady business dealings to fitness superstardom. Now you can find Tracy's stuff everywhere--from Target to BJ's Wholesale, of all places.

I know some people who absolutely love Tracy's workouts. In case you can't tell from my snark tone, I tried her method after I had Darling Son #2, and let's just say she isn't for me. But if you like her stuff and can do it without getting shin splints, plantar fasciitis, back injuries or triggering an eating disorder, then super. Really, I mean that. There are many types of workouts, and if Tracy clicks with you, awesome. I will say that Tracy's workouts are definitely different, and that can be a nice change if you've been doing more traditional workouts for a while.

But there are really so many bones that people can legitimately pick with Tracy. She says some really insane things. For example: "women should never lift weights heavier than three pounds," "you can defy your genetics," and, my personal favorite, "Some people experience a stage of feeling mushy doing my method. That's just the new muscle schmooshing the fat to the top, then the dance cardio will carry it away." Ok, I'm paraphrasing on the last one, but really, she said pretty much that. She insists that she did really hard-core research, by the way. It's must be kind of like my world-famous exhaustive internet researchtm.

Honestly, though, a lot of instructors say kind of dumb things and I can tune out a fair bit of erroneous-fitness-information-cloaked-as-motivation. The main thing that drove me crazy about Tracy was her CRAPPY INSTRUCTION. Really, Tracy is the worst instructor I have ever encountered, which is possibly why I've heard of a pretty high injury rate associated with her workouts. The woman couldn't cue her way out of a paper bag, and she doesn't seem to feel like she has to. In her book 30 Day Method, she tells of a woman who walked out of her class because Tracy was just looking at herself exercise in the mirror. Tracy defends herself by saying, "I was just watching myself carefully... I was watching my moves, making sure my performance was accurate. That's what I need you to do."

Newsflash, Tracy: This wasn't 'your performance.' You were the instructor. An instructor's job is to shepherd the students through the workout, to ensure they are doing the moves correctly. Tracy doesn't properly explain the moves, doesn't count reps evenly (and I mean, not even close), doesn't even tell you when to switch sides. She may look good, but she's a lousy instructor. If I pay for an exercise video, and certainly if I pay for classes at one of her $900 per month Manhattan studios, I expect instruction. Really good instruction, and for that price, a little something extra... like a cookie.

My point (and I do have one) is that how an instructor looks really doesn't necessarily reflect the efficacy of the workout. There are instructors with absolutely beautiful physiques who are not clear, not motivating, not even safe. And then there are instructors who may not stop traffic, but they do their jobs--and do them well. They're precise, fun, encouraging, knowledgeable and creative.

Add to that the fact that you don't know what instructors are doing besides the workout they're teaching. Maybe they're doing other types of exercise on their own time? Maybe they live on very restrictive diets? Maybe they have a genetic predisposition to look the way they do? Maybe they were hired just because they have the look that the studio owner wants to showcase?

Even if an instructor is a little overweight, that doesn't really mean anything about the workout. Exercise does not equal thinness. People can carry extra weight for many reasons, and those reasons are none of my business. Seriously, you can have a few extra pounds on you and still be an awesome instructor. You can have a few extra pounds on you and still be incredibly fit. In fact, if you can slog through a hard-core barre class with some extra weight, I bow to you. Since barre uses primarily body weight as resistance, this means you are pretty strong.

On some level, I suppose it's natural to assume direct correlation between an instructor's look and the workout she's teaching, but I believe it's wise to regard those thoughts with some suspicion. If you're loving Method A and find the instructor competent and engaging, why abandon it just because she doesn't look like she stepped off a magazine cover? Magazine images are largely fiction anyway.

So please, could we stop all the judging about fat and appearance? If I've paid for a class or a video, I want clear, accurate, motivating instruction. I don't need Barbie.
Now that's an outfit for working it. Way to go, Barbie.
Just provide some decent cueing, ok?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Barre Crawl: Core Fusion

Back in July, I took my first class at exhale Core Fusion (yes, the lowercase 'e' in exhale is how they write it. Very e.e. cummings, no?) Core Fusion was founded back in 2003 by Elisabeth Halfpap and  Fred DeVito, a wife-husband duo who worked at the venerable Lotte Berk Method studio in New York for many years, along with my girl Tanya Becker from Physique 57. The Lotte Berk studio was dying on the vine by that point, so Fred and Liz branched out to join forces with exhale spas to offer barre-fusion classes based on the Lotte Berk technique.
Fred and Liz putting CFers through their paces

Going downtown to Core Fusion is a bit of a schlepp, but once you're there, it's a lovely experience. It's an event--something for which I feel I should don a pillbox hat and white gloves, except that is obviously not the most functional garb for working it.

One of the nice things about Core Fusion is they offer different types of classes. In addition to traditional barre, they have classes called 'cardio,' 'sport,' 'bootcamp' and a variety of yoga options (things called 'chill' and 'power yoga.') They also have specialty classes like 'thighs and gluteals' and advanced barre.

Back in July I took a barre class while DH brought the small people over to ride the Swan Boats in the Public Garden. Everyone was happy.

The class was traditional barre, no surprises in terms of types of exercises. It didn't produce a huge cardio effect, but it was excellent strength training. The class was led by Back Bay studio manager Denise, whose cueing and instruction were excellent. The class was small and they had a floater along with Denise correcting form and offering encouragement, so there was a lot of personal attention. The other women in the class were very friendly and the whole place had a lovely vibe. I left with the major post-workout 'lalalas.'

About a week later, I received an email from Denise with a limited-time offer. Oh my, holy sweet deals, Batman. (You know how I feel about a deal.) However, you may have heard my primal scream when I realized DH was going to be out of town for the duration of the offer, along with all our babysitters. I hate to beg favors off friends and neighbors unless it's for a doctor's appointment or an emergency trip to the Children's Hospital.

I was tempted to do it anyway, and just send the small people to the Public Garden with a wad of cash for Swan Boat rides and ice cream, but given that they were only five and two years old, it seemed like kind of a bad mother thing to do. So, I had to let this beautiful deal pass me by.

Just the other day, I decided to send Denise a could-I-still-get-the-deal-pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top email. Couldn't hurt to ask, right? And guess what?! She said YES! One-time-special-favor type offer. I'm filled with warm, fuzzy feelings towards Core Fusion, and I have exciting new classes coming my way. I can feel the lalas setting in already....

Core Fusion's home base is New York (of course), but they also have two locations here in Boston, as well as several other cities, including one on the resort island of Turks and Caicos. (All very posh locations--welcome to the wonderful world of barre.) If there isn't a CF near you, they have a number of DVDs. I have done a few of them and honestly, they don't quite light me up. There are some on, so you could try them out and see what you think.

Alternatively, subscribers to can access not only lots of yoga 'practices,' but also some live CF classes! That's money, people. The live classes are great. I subscribed to yogavibes a few months ago to do the CF classes alone and they were awesome. Yogavibes offers a free 15-day trial, so you can check it out risk-free, AND they offer subscribers a FREE class at an exhale Core Fusion studio.

On Friday I'm scheduled for a Core Fusion Cardio class. I'm not going to lie--I'm a little scared, especially since I'm bellying up to the Pure Barre bright and early tomorrow morning. Basically, I'm having my turkey sandwiched between two barres. I can't think of anything better. Lalalala.....

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Chew On This

I had a conversation the other night with a friend who has gone paleo, as in the famous paleolithic diet that eschews grains and dairy in favor of lots of meat and veg. It apparently mimics the way cavemen ate before people settled down long enough to grow crops. My friend is actually on an even stricter version because she has an auto-immune disorder. She's loving it and feels great.

Another friend recently went on a month-long juice fast. Drinking only homemade juices enabled her to shrink her enlarged thyroid, drop needed weight and go off her blood pressure medication. She's a little sick of juice, but she feels great.

Last week my Darling Cousin completed a cleanse, during which she drank sludgy green concoctions that looked like this:
She posted this picture on Facebook... her dinner that resembles pureed grass clippings in contrast to her friends' chewable foods. You know, DC, I'm thinking this picture isn't the best PR for a cleanse, but maybe that's just me??

She described her experience thus: "The first few days were rough but I feel amazing. I think that working with a health consultant who provided us with daily guidance and support plus having a support group of other people doing it, really helped make the process very easy and enjoyable. It was like we were all stranded in a dinghy working together to get back shore."

Did I mention DC is in advertising?

Anyway, DC says she feels great and that I 'should do it!'

Everyone's feeling great. Isn't that great? I wouldn't mind feeling great. Here's the problem: I like chewing. I like chewing whole grains and dairy foods, like cheese. I'm a big fan of chewing.

I like drinking coffee, too. I think drinking coffee makes me a better mother. I probably can't imbibe my favorite libations while on a cleanse. Instead I'll have to take things I usually chew and liquefy them. Same with the juice fast.

The other thing is that I've done some of my world-famous exhaustive internet researchtm and found  much conflicting information on these topics so as to puzzle me exceedingly. For example, I read glowing reports of juicing and it's benefits, that it delivers more nutrients than just eating veggies and fruit straight. Then I'd read something else about juicing stripping the fiber from the food and that you're better off just eating a salad. Clearly, for my juicing friend, it was an unmitigated success (assuming she continues feeling great.) But somehow I find it difficult to embrace things like juicing.

When it comes to eating and other things I need to do for my health and well-being, I'm all about sustainability. I believe in finding a way to eat and move that I can stick with over time. That's why I struggle with very strict diets or fasts, even those that are designed to be undertaken for short periods of time. I always find myself thinking, what do I do when I'm done? I can't drink my food forever. At some point, I'm going to go back to Peet's and Sam Adams, chocolate and chewing.

My paleo friend eats this way because she needs to. I think she's liking it, too, but she got into it because she needs it to be healthy. I have another friend who has fibromyalgia and can't have gluten. If she unwittingly eats even a little bit of gluten, she aches. If she were to eat a slice of pizza, she'd be bedridden the following day. Obviously, these friends are wise to forever shun these things. Food is meant to fuel us and sustain us. God made food yummy so we'd eat and live. If I react strongly to certain foods, if they aren't life-giving to me, then yes, I'll happily do without.

However, I feel very blessed not to have these types of conditions. I limit some foods that don't make me feel good, but I can eat them without threat to life and functionality, and for this, I am very thankful. I have the freedom to eat anything, and I do.

However, I must confess that lately, I have been enjoying my freedom a little too much. Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Someone, who shall remain nameless, brought a big bag of Lindt balls into the house, ate maybe two of them, then left the state. Lindt balls are so addictive they might as well come with a pitchfork and horns.

In all seriousness, I must take full responsibility for my excessive Lindt ball consumption. No one forced me to eat them. I wish I were the sort of person who could eat one or two, enjoy it and put the bag back in the cupboard, but I'm not. These are the kinds of things I really just can't have in the house. I'm a weak-willed woman when it comes to Lindt balls. And donuts. And brownies. And cake.

This morning I woke up feeling puffy, sluggish and decidedly not great, so while the rest of my family were enjoying Darling Husband's world-famous Sunday morning pancakestm, I dug out a smoothie recipe I copied from a magazine I read in a doctor's waiting room.

My smoothie contained greek yogurt, grapes, some avocado, lime juice, a pear and two cups of grass clippings. I also added maybe a cup of almond milk because I don't have a Vitamix and it wouldn't blend without some liquid.

Et voila! I know, the lime wedge was a nice touch.
So this, along with a cup of dandelion tea, was my breakfast this morning (preceded by coffee, since I want to be a good mother.) Now I'm waiting around for the 'feel great' to kick in. Anytime now! I'm ready!

(Feel free to pop my expectations balloon in the comments section.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Barre Crawl: Pure Barre

I've historically been a home exerciser, mostly because of the convenience and cost-effectiveness, but once I started going to live barre classes... Well, let's just say the bloom is slightly off the home-y rose.

I love my barre DVDs and still do them regularly, but it's great to go to live classes, as I mentioned in my last post. There's an energy to a class that's hard to replicate at home, and performing the exercises with good form is key. A few hands-on tweaks from a trained instructor can make all the difference. You really can't just wing it at the barre. Well, I suppose you could, but at best, you won't get much out of it. At worst, you'll hurt yourself.

So when I discovered I had not one, but two Pure Barre studios within an easy distance of my home, I knew I had to try it.

Pure Barre operates on a franchise system. There are over 160 PB studios throughout the United States, and they are all over the place. There are even two in Montana. This is incredible, because really, hardly anyone lives in Montana.

The other great thing about PB is they have studios in the suburbs. It's lovely to go downtown to Core Fusion, stroll through the Boston Public Garden and press my nose up against the glass of all the posh boutiques on Newbury Street, but it's hardly convenient. And as we all know, working out isn't exactly a one-and-done kind of thing. You need to do it consistently. There are all kinds of people just like me (and maybe, you!) out here in the 'burbs, and PB's accessibility is one of it's finer points.

Over the past week, I've taken several classes. My local studio offered a sweet deal on Halloween--13 classes for $13 each. They don't run these kinds of deals very often, so I ran to get my wallet faster than you can say, 'up and inch, down an inch.' I had a nice class cache and free babysitting, courtesy of my visiting in-laws. Score!

I chatted with a woman after class the other day who was featured on the local PB Facebook page for having taken her 250th class (I bow to her.) She mentioned Hannah's classes have been 'really hard' lately. Well, you know I love me a good thigh-quaking, so armed with this little nugget of information, I scuttled off to sign up for a class with Miss Hannah.

The PB workout is similar to other barre workout formats--warm up, upper body with light weights, thighs, seat, abs and finally--blessed, glorious stretch. Here is the collection of toys you get to play with:

That's two sets of weights (I use 3 & 5lbs.), a ball, a double-linked tube, and they've recently introduced this odd little torture device, seen on the far left. It's basically two tubes with handles that attaches to the barre. They do all kinds of horrible things to you with this contraption. It feels very unstable, which I suppose is the point. Hannah had us doing one legged chair pose while flailing about with the tube in one hand. It was horrible. I loved it.

Really, the class was divine and I had a great little bonding moment with my neighbor. She and I were both dripping with sweat and were so comforted by each other's sweatiness that we just had to talk about it. No one seems to sweat as much in these classes as Sweaty Neighbor and I do. I really don't think of myself as a heavy sweat-er, but I'm always pretty sweaty when I'm done, yet lots of other people just look fresh as a daisy. Maybe they're sweating on the inside?

This brings me to an important point about barre: if it seems easy, you aren't doing it right (I'm not suggesting my fresh-as-daisy classmates aren't working hard... It's probably just my own insecurity. They leave looking cuter than I do.)

Barre is hard. You should be shaking and praying for Almighty God to rain mercy upon your thighs. If you are just cruising through it, something is wrong. Don't pat yourself on the back and assume you're Zena Warrior Princess. You're either not getting it, or you're slacking off. (I say this with Care Bears in my heart.) Talk to the instructor and find out why it's not hard for you. Really, you've paid for the class and schlepped there, you might as well get something out of it.

Don't you love reading my blog? It's so uplifting.

Another great thing about barre is the better you get at it, the harder it gets. This is a strange phenomenon, but it's true. Although there are plenty of ways to make a class harder (like using the torture tubes), a beginner class can still provide a world of challenge. Barre is really a plateau-proof exercise method.

Anyway, Sweaty Neighbor and I were not phoning it in. We were working it, and at the end we both left with that lovely lalala feeling. And that's the last thing I'll tell you (today) about barre--yes, it's hard. I know many of you are wondering why on earth I love it. The lalala feeling, that's why. And the more you put into it, the more 'las' you get in your lalala. I feel so good and chill and limber when it's over. Stress, irritants--they just 'ping' right off me after I leave the barre. Pure bliss...

I didn't leave before taking a picture with Hannah:

I know, I'm not so cute and fluffy here, but I was able to find my own way to my car, so I consider that a 'win.'

If you live anywhere in the continental United States, check out the Pure Barre website. There might be a studio near you. I mean, if there's one in Montana, chances are good.
Sporting my cute PB mittens

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things

Ah, the Christmas shopping season is upon us. Buy Buy Buy! It's the American way! Let's show our love through stuff! My family are rolling their eyes because I go on this anti-stuff tirade every year, so I had to just get it out of the way before I started in on my....

...first annual best fitness gifts post!

Now before I reveal my list, I need to make a very clear disclaimer: unless the gift recipient really likes exercise and/or has expressed a strong, sincere desire to exercise, please do not buy him or her a fitness-related gift. This is one of those things that could majorly backfire. Yes, husbands/boyfriends, I'm talking to you. You could come off as a massive jerk and your Christmas could turn into a flood of tears and 'are you trying to tell me something?'-type awkward conversations. You really don't want this to be the Christmas everyone remembers as the one during which Suzie locked herself in the bathroom crying because you bought her a Fitbit. I'm making this very clear because if I hear you were banging on the door saying, 'but Honey, I read about it on this chick's blog! She LOVES it and I thought you would, too!' I'm proving that I'm not responsible for whatever comes next.

Know your people. Okay?

Moving on.

1.  A Fitbit!
You knew I was going to say that. I love my Fitbit, as you may recall. Pros: awesome, fun gadget that really motivates you to get up off your duff. Variety of options/price ranges. Cons: can be very addictive. Don't say I didn't warn you.

2. A heartrate monitor.
Pros: They are seriously fun gadgets. There are a variety of types/models. I've typically used the Polar brand and it's really fun to track how hard you're working (or not, as the case my be.) Cons: you can start assessing your workouts based solely on heartrate/caloric burn and that's not always the best indicator of good workoutness. Just saying. Also highly addictive, like the Fitbit, but not quite as bad.

3. Grippy socks.
Darling Son #1 modeling my Physique 57 socks
These are a total must-have for barre-istas. Trust me, you don't want to wear normal socks to a barre class. You will slip-slide all over the place and let's face it--plank is a hard place to be, no reason to make it any harder. Pros: you won't slip and slide all over the place. That, and you'll fit in with the cool kids at the barre. Also relatively cheap. Good stocking stuffers. Kinda cute to stuff stockings with stockings, no? Cons: there aren't any cons. People need grippy socks.

I have quite a collection of grippy socks. Behold:

From left: Physique 57, Pure Barre, exhale Core Fusion, and random traction socks from Amazon. I must say, my Pure Barre socks are my faves. They're the cushiest of the bunch.

4. Camelbak bottle.
The Darling Husband turned me on to this and now I'm a convert. Camelbaks are great. Pros: They don't get that nasty bottle stink. They're easy to clean and you can just grab it and take a quick sip during a workout--there isn't any unscrewing of lids resulting in potential spillage. Cons: none.

5. Lucy Vital workout pants.
These are my all-time fave workout pants. They're vital. Pros: stylish, made from non-compression fabric. This means they don't fit super snug-ly and that's nice when you're wearing them to preschool dropoff and don't want your workout pants to cling to Know what I mean? I wear them with a normal, non-workout top and clogs and they just look like regular clothes, but they are super comfortable and totally suitable for exercise. They're the perfect life-to-workout transition garment. I'm a total Lucy girl, so I can't say I have a whole lot of experience with other brands, so bear that in mind. I don't do Lululemon. I'd rather buy a car than a pair of workout pants, thank you very much. Swearing off Lulu was a decision I came to even before the whole sheer pants/CEO with foot-in-mouth disease issues, Cons: full-price Lucy is still expensive, but they run decent sales and always have a sale rack at the back of the store, and I love them for it.

6. Buy your fitness person some classes or a personal training session.
This is a Pure Barre class. I love the look on the second one's face. That's one focused chick.
I love, love, love live classes, but they're usually not cheap, and since I have small people, I have to hire a sitter on top of the class cost. Consequently, I don't take live classes very often. This is why it's such an awesome gift--totally something I wouldn't typically get for myself. Pros: live instruction takes your workout to whole new level. It's the gift that keeps on giving. It's also a great gift for mothers of small people who never get a distraction-free moment. A live class is bliss simply because no one is crawling on you or needing you to change the channel, provide a snack, or referee the latest brouhaha over which of Thomas the Tank Engine's friends gets to shunt the Troublesome Trucks. Also, this is a clutter-free gift! And you're supporting a local business. What's not to love? Cons: clearly, none that I can think of.

7. A massage.
Try to find a place that will put a flower in your hair. That's a nice touch.
Those nails have to go, though.
Who doesn't love a massage?! Pros: This is the one exception to the above disclaimer. No one will lock herself in the bathroom sobbing over a massage. There is no potential hidden agenda in a massage. This gift is risk-free, clutter-free, and it's awesome. Cons: Seriously? No cons.

8. A subscription to Clean Eating magazine.
I'm obsessed with CE. Pros: It's a great magazine chock full o' delicious recipes. I do a little happy dance whenever the latest issues flies through the mail slot. Cons: some recipes call for hard-to-find ingredients, so I make subsitutions. A lot. Also, they went out of business earlier this year, but they've found a new publisher and I just got my first issue. Hopefully, they've worked out the kinks.

So there you go, along with raindrops on roses, etc., these are my favorite things. Go forth and stimulate the economy!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

It's Not OK to be Selfish

When is the last time you felt guilty for taking the time to brush your teeth? How about flossing? Taking a shower? Anyone?? For the overwhelming majority of people, the answer to these questions is, "never."

Then why is it that many people seem to feel they are being selfish for taking time to exercise?

I'm asking this because I am noticing more and more exercise people giving us little pep talks about the need to be 'a little selfish' and get in some exercise. For example, I recently read the following on the Pure Barre website: "Make this hour about you. Arrive a few minutes early to get set up and ready your mind and body for one hour where you can let everything else go. Keep your phone out of sight, out of mind. You spend so much time worrying about everyone else, this is time for you to be selfish!"

Now, I don't mean to pick on Pure Barre, because I really like them. Pure Barre runs many barre studios throughout the United States and, in my experience, they're really good. But they are just one of many who repeat the 'it's ok to be selfish' thing. They say it's important for your health and well-being, and that you will have more to give to the people in your life if you are healthy and well.

Regarding the latter bit, I couldn't agree more. I see exercise as an essential component of self-care. To me, it's like brushing my teeth. I could go a day without some movement, but I'd rather not. Just like not brushing my teeth, it's yucky. It doesn't make me feel good. This doesn't mean I go all-out, everyday. I have easier, rest/recovery days, but I always try to get in some movement. I'm creaky if I don't.

The former bit, however, the part about 'it's time for you to be selfish' makes me crazy. Why are we trying to re-define selfishness? It is not ok to be selfish. Selfishness is a bad thing. Being selfish means you're putting your own wants before other people's needs. It's a lack of consideration for others. Getting in some exercise, being clean, brushing your teeth, eating a nutritious meal when you're hungry--these are all things you need to be well, both physically and mentally. I cannot fathom why the word 'selfish' has any association with these things.

Can exercise be selfish? Certainly. If you're tossing Goldfish crackers to your hungry kids so you can workout for two hours, I'd call a foul on that. If you're neglecting people and things you really need to do so you can exercise, then yes, maybe you're being selfish. But walking a couple of times around the block to clear your head and move your body while your spouse bathes the kids? Learning to say, 'I've done enough today' at the office to get a little exercise? Turning off the computer to get in a workout a few times a week? Wise, not selfish.

The thing about selfishness is that, really, anything can be selfish--even acts that appear remarkably selfless. Let's say Suzie Homemaker irons everything her family wears. She makes everything from scratch, and includes sweet little notes in her children's lunchboxes. Suzie is room mother and den mother. She's everywhere and everything... serving everyone at every turn. This all seems so blessedly selfless, doesn't it? My goodness, Suzie is so dedicated and giving to her lovely family... and if Suzie is truly doing this out of love for her people, then by all means, Suzie--fire up your iron. But maybe Suzie is doing this so everyone will notice what a wonderful Mrs. Homemaker she is. Maybe Suzie is doing it for praise or admiration. In other words, Suzie is doing it for herself--not to bless her family.

Now imagine Suzie is wheezing on her way up the stairs with all those crisp, starched shirts. Her body aches. She's worn out at the end of the day. She's becoming increasingly snippy towards her people. Even with all that ironing, Suzie isn't really getting a lot of challenging movement, especially since Mr. Homemaker gave her that super lightweight iron for Christmas last year. (Mr. Homemaker should know better than to give his wife an iron and try to pass it off as a gift. I'd say that's a pretty crappy gift, but that's just me.)

So really, aren't we going to encourage Suzie to take care of herself? Isn't that in the best interest of Suzie's whole family? Aren't we going to tell Suzie that it isn't selfish to get some exercise? Because really, Suzie's holding everyone together and if she falls apart, they're all going to suffer. And walk around very wrinkley... at least until Mr. Homemaker starts pumping a little iron himself.

We could substitute the Homemakers with office workers, charity workers, you name it--the result is the same. Taking care of yourself enables you to take care of others, to do what you're called to do. And really, it doesn't take a lot of time to reap the benefits of exercise. Just a few minutes here and there can yield major dividends. This is why I talk about working movement into your day, because not everyone is able (or maybe willing) to devote big chunks of time for exercise. But it's important, just like brushing your teeth.

Let's not try to parse out 'a little bit' selfish from 'a lot' selfish. It's all bad. After I've gotten a little exercise, I move more freely, I'm more relaxed and patient with my small people. That's not selfish, not even a little bit.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bananas and Dandelion Tea: Breakfast of Champions

My in-laws are here for a visit, which means there is a lot of yummy Chinese food happening. They are big-time foodies and great cooks. I know, you want to come over.

I really don't want this to be a TMI blog, but I seem to have some issues with fluid retention, and Chinese food is a major culprit for me, especially when it's restaurant Chinese food. At home, I season my food lightly with sea salt, so I'm not used to taking in a lot of sodium, and restaurant food is full of it. I turn into a massive fluid hoarder. I could be a reality show on TLC with all this water I'm holding onto. It seems to be getting worse as I get older. Now, rather than my clothes just being tight, I also get these digs under my eyes. It looks like someone took a chisel to my face. I'd post a picture, but I wouldn't want to scare anyone. That, and I'm vain.

Ok, so now that the dudes are out of the room, we can get real. Fluid retention affects everyone at some level, but let's face it--it's more common in women. Bloating is one of the more unpleasant symptoms of PMS. It's pretty harsh, particularly since you're already witchy and crying at every Geico commercial. It would be nice if at least your clothes fit.

I had a bout of bloat so bad over the summer that I did some exhaustive internet research on what to do about it. Once again, hard-hitting journalism here at the barre, people. Here's what I found:

  • Fluid retention results from a potassium/sodium imbalance. Eating potassium rich foods restores equilibrium. Bananas are commonly thought of as a great source, but actually sweet potatoes top the potassium list, followed by tomato paste. Who knew?
  • Drink lots of water. That may seem counter-intuitive to some, but drinking water when you're retaining fluid is the best thing you can do. It flushes out your system and reassures you poor bloated body that you are not, in fact, in a desert. You only ate General Tso's chicken at Lucky Chang's Chinese Emporium.
  • Adding mint and cucumber supposedly helps, too. I get why the water-rich cukes would help, but not so much the mint. I grow mint, though, so I'll toss some mint leaves in my water. Why not?
  • Another interesting suggestion I found was drinking dandelion tea. Yes, the pesky weed. I don't know why this supposedly works, but I found many references to it on the blessed internet, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I went to Whole Paycheck and paid... wait for it.... eight frickin' dollars for a box of dandelion tea bags. This was particularly painful since my lawn, at the time, was full of dandelions. Next summer I'm making my own. And selling it outside Chinese restaurants.
  • Here's a bit of an odd one: take a teaspoon of Angostura Bitters--straight. You can find this at liquor stores, since it's typically used to flavor cocktails. It's kind of clovey/spicy. Given the name you'd think it would be really vile tasting, but it's not really that bad, definitely better than the baking soda I recommended last month to reduce muscle soreness. I got this tip from a model who swore by it, so take that with whatever value you give to the opinions of fashion models. I'm willing to bet someone who makes her living from looking good might actually know what she's talking about.
  • Lastly--parsley. When Lucky Chang's brings you your dinner, don't just ditch the parsley garnish--eat it! Parsley is a natural diuretic.
Here are a few of the items from my anti-bloating arsenal. They're at the ready this week. Honestly, I've never isolated any of these variables so really can't attest to the validity of any of these claims. Usually I'm so miserable when bloated that I try them all at once and eventually things get better. Who knows which, if any, is the magic bullet.

In the meantime, I'm thoroughly enjoying my food. My in-laws are most gracious to share their culinary skills with us, so I'm not complaining. It's delightful to be with them AND they minded the kids yesterday so I could get a mammogram and flu shot without hiring a sitter or begging a favor off a friend, which was delightful. Did I really just say a mammogram and a flu shot was delightful? I did. Is that sad? Don't answer that.

Anyone else have anti-bloating tips?? I'm all ears. Pull up a chair for cup of weed tea.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I am Gumby... Hear Me Pranayama

Before we go any further in our relationship, there is something you should know about me: I hate yoga. Really, I hate it. I've tried it many times. I have taken classes and tried different videos. I've given yoga a fair shot, and I hate it. The only thing I like about it is that nice Gumby feeling I get from it. I really do feel like Gumby, and it's nice.

 I bet Gumby does a lot of yoga. Here he is in warrior 2.

I know yoga is very popular and has many physical benefits, but there are myriad reasons to dislike it. It's boring, and I don't click with some of the woo-woo-ness of it. I don't need to 'salute my inner goddess' because I don't have one. I'm not a goddess and there is no such being within. Sometimes I like to think I'm God, but I'm not, and neither, by the way, are you.

Also, I find the whole yogi-world too pretentious for words. I find it odd that yoga workouts are called 'practices.' Really?? I just can't bring myself to talk about my workout as a 'practice.' When I hear someone talk about her 'practice,' I assume she's a dentist. I don't think she's a fellow stay-at-home mom doing a yoga video in her living room.

I know a lot of people love yoga, and I don't mean to diss it. Some people I really love also love yoga, like my Darling Cousin, who has threatened, I mean, offered, to take me to her fave yoga studio next time I'm in New York. And I will go. With joy in my heart. Because I love DC, and it's the least I can do since I dragged her to Physique 57.

But there is something else I need to tell you: I struggle with insomnia. I have for years, and it's a horrible affliction. If you are good sleeper, please take a moment to thank the merciful Lord that you can sleep, because really, if there were one thing I wish I could do well, it's sleep. My Darling Husband is a champion sleeper. He could sleep on a bed of nails. He falls asleep all over the place. I had to tell our minister not to be offended if he looked out into the congregation and found DH asleep. He needed to know it wasn't him. It's just DH. He's amazing. I try to elbow him when he nods off in church, but sometimes I miss it.... usually because the sermon is so riveting. That's what I told the minister.

Anyway, recently I've been reading testimonials about power yoga and how it can really help with sleep, specifically a program called Ultimate Yogi. I read about all these people who are sleeping like rocks since they've been doing UY (and no, I did not read these testimonials on UY's website.)

Well, I'll do just about anything for sleep. I mean, I'm not Faust, but short of selling my soul to the devil, I'll try almost anything. So when I read recently that UY's price came down on Amazon, I took the plunge.

I know, seriously, when I am going to find time to do yoga on top of everything else? Because I'm certainly not giving up barre and all my other fun workouts that I actually enjoy. But I have to try it. This shows you how desperate I am. I doing YOGA. I'm rolling my eyes as I type this.

I already had misgivings about UY, mainly because the workouts (or should I say, 'practices'?) are LONG. I mean, some of them are over an hour. I'm rolling my eyes again. I know, I have a bad attitude and it's going to poison my non-existent inner goddess, but really, I'm already squeezing this in between barre, heavy lifting, laundry, housekeeping, cooking and taking care of my family, so an hour is tough.

Also, the instructor is a guy called Travis Elliot and Travis doesn't just say, 'downward dog,' he says, 'downward dooooooooooooooooog.' Seriously. He says that.

But whatever, the set arrived yesterday and I tried the Flexibility disc last night after I put the kids to bed. My night before had been pretty awful, so I was planning to take Nyquil to knock myself out, but after I finished Flexibility I decided against the Nyquil to see if UY would work it's sleepytime magic.

I fell asleep right away (as is my custom) and woke up at 2. This is when I usually get tripped up--I wake up four hours after I've gone to sleep and can't go back to sleep unless I take something. But last night I DID! I fell back to sleep quite quickly. I woke up again at 4.45 and I was so excited when I realized I had fallen right back to sleep at 2, that I couldn't sleep anymore at 4.45. But that's ok. Honestly, for me, 10-4.45 with a brief waking at 2 is a stellar night.

Today I did the UY Cross Train 'practice' (lalala, I'm such a yogi now) and I was kind of grooving with it until Travis told me I could manifest my own destiny through positive thinking or some other such BS and I said (alone, out loud in my living room), "please, Travis, what a crock of BS."

So clearly I have a little work to do on my attitude, but I see it as a positive thing that I can recognize when Travis spouts BS and I can call him on it. It proves I'm not Faust and I'm just honoring my feelings, and Travis tells me that's very important and key to my 'practice.'

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: Drop Two Sizes

Breaking news, people: I've decided to abandon my Drop Two Sizes rotation with only two weeks to go. Why? Because I'm sick of it. Three months is a very, very, very long time for me to stick with one method/instructor (except for Physique 57 because I lurv it.) I'm just ready to move on.

Does this mean D2S was somehow bad or boring?
Resounding NO! D2S was actually quite interesting. It involves switching up workouts every four weeks. Each strength or metabolic cardio workout follows the same framework, but the exercises are different. That means you get new material to play with and that's always fun.

Drop Two Sizes was designed by Rachel Cosgrove and comes in both book and DVD formats. This is not Rachel on the cover. Apparently the powers-that-be at publisher Women's Health determined that Rachel was too buff for the cover, and they hired this cute-as-a-button-but-not-particularly-buff model for the book. This irks me, but I get that many (maybe most?) women are terribly afraid of the dreaded 'bulk' they fear they'll develop from weight lifting and Rachel's just trying to make a living. That's a rant for another time.

Anyway, if you're a gym person, you can just bring the book with you to your gym. I am not a gym person, but wished I had access to one for this program, because sometimes you need really heavy weights, heavier than I have here at home. If you're a DVD person, you don't really need the book, unless you want to follow the eating plan. I decided to get both. I got a deal, what can I say.

The DVD set comes with six discs, one strength (containing two workouts) and one metabolic cardio (also containing two workouts) for each of the plan's three phases. So there really is a lot of material.

The strength workouts always started with core work, which I really appreciated. My core isn't the strongest since I had Darling Son #2 via C-section, so I liked doing core first while I was fresh. Then Rachel has you doing sets of power and compound strength exercises, some of which really get your heart rate up. Part of the reason I haven't been keen on heavy lifting is I found isolation exercises (just working one muscle group at a time) to be soooo boring. Compound moves are way more fun and interesting. I'm a compound girl from now on.

Did you actually drop two sizes?
No. I'm not especially skinny, so I probably could healthfully drop a size, maybe even two, but I'm also not really needing to drop sizes. I'm kind of fine where I am, but I do think that my body composition changed. I'm definitely more muscular than I was. I didn't expect to 'drop two sizes,' but there are a few things in my closet that it would have been nice to have fit into a little better (like the purple corduroys I mentioned last week, but I'm over that.)

Honestly, I'm not really all that fussed about aesthetics (which is wonderfully freeing), so it doesn't bother me that I'm not smaller. I probably could have gotten a little smaller, but I rekindled my love affair with Samuel Adams (brewer, patriot) towards the end, and Sam really gets me into trouble. Really, I blame the Boston Red Sox (truly, I love them.) They got into the American League playoffs, then the World Series, and the Sox and Sam just go together.

Actually, the problem is that the World Series is a best-of-seven competition. If it were a one-and-done kind of thing, like the Superbowl, I'd be fine. So really, I blame Major League Baseball. Once I start hanging with Sam, he weakens my resolve and I end up snacking on all kinds of other treats... Sam and chocolate are besties. This is what I get for taking up with Sam again. I know, I should know better. Beer is a sometimes food... yes, I'm using the word 'food' rather loosely.

So, what did you think of the eating plan?
The diet is a little bit controversial because it is, as written, quite low calorie. Some reviewers online really got onto Rachel for that because in her last book (apparently... I haven't read her last book yet) she went on and on about how low calorie diets are of the devil and will not give you the results you are looking for (you know, because of needing sufficient calories to build muscle, maintain metabolism, avoid starve mode, etc.)

However, I appreciated that the diet was low calorie because I felt free to make additions, like creamy coffee in the mornings, which for me is a non-negotiable. I didn't go crazy, but quite frankly, I don't  think anyone should follow a diet exactly to the letter. Diets don't know you. You know you. Maybe you need more food than they allow. Maybe you need less. Eating exactly what someone else tells you is ridiculous. So I just see these types of diets as a framework around which to work.

Generally, I thought it was a good framework. Rachel has you eating five times a day. Each meal or snack is fairly small (which is key if you are going to eat frequently.) The meals are all made with real, non-processed food, except for the protein shake she recommends in the afternoons. The best part was pretty much everything was super easy to make. She actually has you eating Ezekiel toast with natural peanut butter for lunch occasionally. How easy is that? Easy, I say.

She doesn't ban any type of food from your diet, but obviously recommends limiting certain things, like sugar. She allows something like three splurges a week, which is great. You need to enjoy life, you know? However, I thought she was little ridiculously strict on what constitutes a 'splurge.' At one point, she says that the four M&Ms in your trail mix should count as a splurge. Please. If I'm only eating four M&Ms, I'm not only not counting it as a splurge, I'm jumping up and down with joy that I restrained myself enough to eat only four.

So I didn't exactly follow the menu. I started out well, but kind of petered out towards the end. I did try to follow the spirit of the diet--smaller meals more often (it's the 'smaller' part that can trip me up) and Rachel recommends you front-load your calories earlier in the day, which I think is key. I believe it is wise to eat a good dinner, then leave the kitchen, never to return again until morning. That works for me... it's just hard to leave the kitchen.... especially with Sam Adams and chocolate cavorting about in there.

What didn't you like about D2S?
The RAMP warm-ups. Ugh, these made me crazy. Each phase as a separate warm-up called a RAMP (range of motion, activation, movement preparation) They run about ten boring minutes and are, to me, just an odd collection of exercises that had no real flow to them. I did not usually feel sufficiently warmed up after doing them so I usually skipped the RAMPs and did my own warm-up. Lots of Rachel devotees on the D2S Facebook page seemed to think this was heresy, but I just couldn't take the RAMPs and I didn't feel like they worked for me, so I rebelled.

Rachel sometimes started the RAMPs with static stretches and I do not like to stretch cold muscles. Rachel lives in Southern California. Maybe that works in a nice warm place like SoCal, but I live in cold New England, so honestly, the RAMPs had to go. In general, I felt D2S was sorely lacking in stretching. Rachel is big on foam rolling, which is nice, and taking recovery days, but I felt very tight the whole time I did D2S. I needed to add in a lot of stretching on my own. This was a major con for me. I really  like the limber feeling I get from barre and I missed it.

What was the best part of D2S?
The strength gains I made! Wow, I'm stronger. A lot stronger. I can now leap tall buildings in a single bound. I can feel it in my other workouts and just generally in life. I'm a total convert back to heavy lifting. I'm definitely going to include heavy lifting in my regular rotations from now on. I think my shoulders and upper body in general look better, too.

In sum, I am very glad I did D2S. I would definitely recommend it to others. I just couldn't hack three full months. I went back to the barre starting November 1st and I'm sooo happy to be back. I also left Sam at the bar (not to be confused with the barre... heh heh.) Once the Red Sox won the World Series (yay!), it was time for us to take a break. I'm sure that will help with things, except getting through the witching hour.

If you're interested in D2S, you can buy the book on Amazon and the DVDs from They're cheap and chipper at $34.99!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Getting It Done

12.45pm--Settle the Darling Sons at the table with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Dash upstairs to put on workout clothes and heart rate monitor, put exercise DVD into player and gather necessary equipment.

1.10pm--Get Darling Son #2 into bed for nap and Darling Son #1 involved in appropriate activity that will, hopefully, keep his attention for length of exercise DVD.

1.15pm--Start workout.

1.20pm--Phone rings. Let machine pick up. Hear Darling Husband say someone is coming by in twenty minutes to pick something up. Weigh options--continue exercising and greet stranger sweaty? Or suspend workout until after stranger departs? Fear suspension of workout will result in total eclipse of workout window of opportunity. Debate social dilemma of appropriateness of sweaty greeting. Decide is not socially criminal offense to offer sweaty greeting, as long as sweat is accompanied by smile and general pleasantness. Continue exercising.

1.23pm--Hear DS#2 calling for me, meaning he is not asleep. Go upstairs to check on him to find he not only requires diaper change, but also change of bedding. (Don't ask.) Annoyed, but realize workout delay has resolved social dilemma and am, thus, thankful.

1.33pm--Resume workout after cleaning and changing child and sheets, putting sheets in laundry and finding second appropriate activity for DS#1 that will hopefully keep his attention for remainder of exercise DVD.

1.37pm--Stranger arrives, transaction is pleasant and mercifully short, am only mildly glistening thanks to multiple interruptions. Social appropriateness is maintained. Enjoy moment of gratitude upon reflecting that everything happens for a reason... lalala.... continue workout.

1.55pm--DS#1 appears in shorts and t-shirt announcing plans to join in workout. Provides mild distraction in the form of great amusement.

1.57pm--DS#1 is bored and begins to use barbell as light saber, then transforms into Optimus Prime to defeat dumbbells, which are apparently evil Decepticons. Reclaim equipment, shoo DS1 out of room and resume.
This is a Decepticon. How it resembles a dumbbell is a mystery to the adult mind.

2.30pm--Workout is complete. Distractions did not disrupt flow of happy post-workout endorphins. Float around in post-exercise bliss for a moment.

2.31pm--About to get in shower when DS#2 wakes up in state of great discontentment resulting in screaming. Weigh options--shower quickly despite screaming? Or wait until after children are put to bed, thus allowing greater enjoyment of shower? Decide to wait.

7.45pm--Darling Sons in bed. Shower completed. Clean. Happy. Healthy.

Sometimes, this is what it takes to get it done.