Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sometimes We Eat Frankenfoods, and Live to Tell the Tale

There is Gatorade in my fridge.


A couple of years ago I ranted about how gross Gatorade is, and now I have it in my fridge.

We don't consume Gatorade with any regularity. I stand by my rant that as a casual beverage, it's yucky, but the pediatrician told me to give it to one of the littles because he was very, very sick and they were worried about his electrolytes. I know I provided links in my Gatorade-is-gross rant for homemade electrolyte-replacement drinks, but when your precious small person is sick and you're worried and exhausted, the last thing you want to do is whip up a batch of anything, so I gave him the Gatorade.

Does this make me a hypocrite? Am I poisoning my small person? Am I losing any sleep over any of this? I'm going to go with 'no,' 'no' and 'no.'

Here's the thing--I really believe it's what we do MOST of the time that matters, not what we do SOME of the time. Yes, Gatorade is full of sugar and artificial stuff, but if we only have it once in a while, I think we're going to be ok.

I also had some Diet Coke when we went to see Star Wars last week. Is Diet Coke yucky? Yes. Yes, it is. I think there are a lot of problems with soda in general and diet soda in particular, but somehow slurping down half of the Darling Husband's monster cup felt sort of festive. (And he didn't mind. No. Not at all.) A Star Wars movie only comes out once every few years, at most, so I think I'll be ok.

There are all kinds of crappy stuff out there. Lots of things rob our bodies of precious nutrients. But you know what? So does exercise, and pretty much no one tells you to stop doing that. But even exercise needs to be accompanied by moderation.

I just wanted to tell you all about the Gatorade. I know I write about healthy stuff, but I hope I never come across as perfectionist-y about food, or exercise, or anything else. I fear that I might have from time to time, and I'm sorry if I've done anything to promote the perfect-health dogma that exists in stark contrast to the SAD (Standard American Diet.)

What really gets my knickers in a twist is when these highly processed, frankenfoods are marketed as health foods. I think the frankenfoods can be fine from time to time, but let's not pass them off as healthy while we demonize real, whole foods like butter or red meat. Let's face it: the frankenfoods are convenient, and dare I say, some are even yummy!

Life happens. Little people get sick. Best laid plans go awry. A new Star Wars movie comes out. You drink a Gatorade, eat at McDonalds or schnarf down a couple of handfuls of toxic cinema popcorn.

And it's OK. It's what we do MOST of the time that matters.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What Christmas is All About, and It's NOT SHOES
One of our local radio stations is playing non-stop Christmas music. You know, the pop-y kind. The small people absolutely love it, so I've relaxed my commercial radio ban for the duration of Advent.

Today we were driving to school and on came possibly the stupidest Christmas song EVER. It's called 'Christmas Shoes.' It tells a schmaltzy story of a ragged little boy trying to fork over pennies to buy shoes for his dying mother, because he wants her to look pretty because.... wait for it.... she's DYING. She might 'meet Jesus tonight.' It's sung in this croony country singer-type voice, a la 'Butterfly Kisses.'

I know the concept of dirty, threadbare child buying a present for his dying mother is supposed to tug at my heartstrings, but it doesn't. Sweetheart, if you mommy is dying, please go be with her!!! She doesn't need shoes! I'm guessing if she might die tonight, she's not even walking around. Seriously, no need for shoes.

So I start ranting in the car a little bit.

(Just a little.)

Me: Cuteface, are you listening to the words of this song?

CF: No, not really.

Me: It's about this boy whose mommy is really not well and might go to heaven, and the little boy is spending all his money on new shoes for her. I want you to know that if I get really sick the last thing I want is new shoes. I want you to come be with me. I want you to read to me or play Uno with me. None of this spending time at shops buying me stuff I don't need, ok?

CF: Yeah, that's dumb. It's not like she can use them anyway. We're all going to be running around barefoot in heaven.

Ha! Take that, Country Crooner!

I think the reason this song set me off is this horrible American Christmas notion that we make people happy through stuff. That buying stuff is what Christmas is all about. NO. It's about God Incarnate. It's about being with our people. It's not about leaving dying mother's bedside to buy her SHOES.

I drop off the small people and pull into my driveway. Guess what's playing now? Mariah Carey--'All I want for Christmas is YOU-OOO-Baby!'

I never thought I'd say it, but Mariah Carey hit the nail on the head.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Guide to 'the Holidays'

Recently I participated in a discussion on 'how not to go overboard on holiday indulgences.' Lots of 'tips' were bandied about, as well as differing opinions on how to regard these strange times in which we live. By 'strange' I mean we live in an age of unprecedented culinary abundance, and from late November through early January we are caught in a swoon of even more abundance. It can be a bit overwhelming, to say the least.
One of the littles when he was very little, building a gingerbread train
My little contribution to the discussion was to point out that 'the holidays' are actually not six weeks of non-stop party. There are actually relatively few 'holidays' within that time frame. I think we get into trouble (and by 'trouble' I mean having absolutely nothing that fits by January 7th) when we frolic about as if we were living in Charlie and Chocolate Factory for forty days. So, as a public service, I would like to recap what actually constitutes a 'holiday' this time of year in the good old U.S. of A.

Thanksgiving: fourth Thursday of November and YES!! Bingo! This is a holiday, people! Totally bona fide. A harvest festival. All about it. Eat, drink, and give thanks. We had a great feast yesterday. I didn't even need dinner last night. YUM!

Black Friday: NO. This is not a holiday. I know it's hard to believe it, since it is heralded with more fanfare than Thanksgiving, but it's true. It's a Madison Avenue manufactured event. It annoys me that it even has a name. I know you may feel like you deserve a treat because you did battle for that Darth Vader Pez dispenser and had to wait in line for an hour at Kohl's, but it's still not a holiday. You're probably hungry and tired, though, so just have leftovers from yesterday.

Cyber Monday: Lord, have mercy. This is even less of a holiday than Black Friday. And you don't deserve any treats because you didn't even have to walk around to do your shopping. You planted your bottom on a chair and pressed buttons. No treats. Sorry.

December 1st. Well, this is the first day of Advent. This is a beautiful time of reflection and thinking about Jesus being the reason for the season, etc. If it helps you to think about Jesus, then go ahead and have a square of chocolate everyday for the next twenty-four days. If it becomes a little too habit-forming, don't worry. Lent is right around the corner!

December 6th: This is the feast of St. Nicholas, aka 'Santa Claus.'If you grew up calling your grandfather 'Opa' then this is a big deal for you. Enjoy that orange in your shoe!

December 8th: Nope. No holiday. It's just Tuesday. Put down the cookie.

December 6th-14th: This is Hanukkah. I'm not Jewish so I'm not really clear on how much treats factor into Hanukkah, except for the gelt, which is chocolate shaped into coins with gold foil wrappers. Personally, I have never had chocolate coins that were worth eating. They are never made from good quality chocolate, so I'd give it a pass. I mean, if you're going to have treats, have the good stuff, right?

December 14th: I'm going to rant for a second:

THIS IS NOT THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS! OH MY GOOD GRIEF. Every year some marketer tries to sell us stuff--literally--for the twelve days preceding Christmas day. DON'T BUY IT. I mean, seriously--don't buy it.

Lord knows I love America as much as the next daughter of a veteran, but I really, really despise how American marketers will try to make a buying opportunity out of every cotton pickin' thing they can. In this case, it is SIMPLY WRONG. The Twelve Days of Christmas start on CHRISTMAS. They end on Twelfth Night--January 5th. I'll get to that later, but please, do not think that the 14th is a holiday because it ISN'T. It's just marketing. Grrr!

Moving on...

December 24th: Ding ding ding! Yes! Holiday fer shur!! Bottoms up!

December 25th: WHOA! HOLIDAY!!! Holy-day! Which is where the word 'holiday' comes from, you know. Eat, drink, be merry, etc.

December 26th: Boxing Day. If you're from a commonwealth nation, yay! Totally qualifies as a holiday. For the rest of us it means going out to buy wrapping paper at 50% off.

December 26th-January 1st: This is Kwanzaa. I actually didn't realize this was a multi-day event. I also didn't realize it was invented in 1966. Kind of makes me wonder, how many people actually grew up celebrating Kwanzaa? I don't know, is this is a holiday? If you are of African decent, please write and tell me what you eat. I thought Kwanzaa might have involved jumping over brooms, which sounds like a nice activity after all the eating at Christmas, but apparently that's just at weddings.

December 31st: New Year's Eve. Holiday. I'll be tucked in by 9.30 in my fuzzy blue robe, but if you're a fan, this definitely qualifies.

January 1st: New Year's Day. Win!! Enjoy a nice brunch rich in vitamin G.

January 5th: As previously mentioned, this is Twelfth Night. You can party it up. Definitely. Especially if you managed to find a yule log that actually burned for twelve days.

January 6th: The Feast of Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. This is a holiday, especially if you call your grandfather 'abuelo,' Spanish kids actually get their presents on January 6th. The Three Kings bring them. There is a traditional cake for Epiphany made in France called a 'galette des rois.' It's yummy flaky pastry with an almond paste filling. If you can find one, enjoy!

After that, the party's over. Yes, there are a lot of holidays in this brief period, but really--unless you're a Jewish Scandinavian Christian Spanish African, you're probably not hitting everything on this list. Then again, maybe you are? In which case, you are indeed an American! Just don't call December 14th the first day of Christmas, ok?

Friday, November 13, 2015

College is a SCAM

I haven't written in a long time, for various reasons. I'll spare you all my whining and instead treat you to the spicy rantings for which I am not famous.

One of the crazy things going around the internet these days is an interview by journalist Neil Cavuto of a young woman who is agitating for this mysterious '1%' to fund college for all AND forgive student loans. This poor benighted soul believes she and her friends should be given a free ride. Honestly, the whole thing is painful to watch, because this poor girl (womyn?) comes across looking like a complete idiot. She should either, a.) not be in college at all or b.) spend a whole lot more time there to learn to develop a cogent argument.

I really feel quite sorry for her. Just like the poor fool at Yale, who is presumably reasonably smart because she got into Yale in the first place, but has absolutely no sense or emotional control. She screamed at one of her professors about Halloween costumes. Yes. Halloween costumes. I would love for her to go attend one of the groups at the little darlings' school that helps the littles determine what is a 'big problem' and what is a 'little problem.'

These events make me even more thankful that I am old enough to have done the vast majority of my young stupid stuff before the internet. These women's actions will live in perpetuity, just a click away. Lord help them!

Anyway, the point of this post is to share my deep thoughts about college. For the record, I went to college, but I'm here to say:

I think college for the masses is a scam.

Before everyone gets their knickers in a twist, I'm not suggesting college should only be for the economic elite. Certainly, there are plenty of people from working and middle class families who have gifts and motivation to pursue career fields that require college and maybe graduate degrees. And they should go! College should be more affordable so people of all walks of life, whose gift mix suits them to professions that require that type of training, are able to pursue it.

However, not everyone fits that criteria. In fact, most don't. Plenty of kids in America today are graduating from mediocre public high schools with mediocre grades and absolutely no clue what they want to do for a living. So what do they do? They borrow pots of cash and go to college.

Some go to college and spend time taking REMEDIAL classes. Yes, people. Remedial. They're staying at the dorm, partying and screwing around, taking basic math, reading and writing. Stuff they should have learned in high school, but didn't. I don't know why they didn't learn it in the FREE and COMPULSORY k-12 American system, but they didn't and now they are PAYING through-the-nose to learn it in college. This is insane. Why are they even being accepted into college if they can't do college work? Why are the colleges not saying, 'hey, God knows we need your cash, but you're really not quite up to snuff here, so why don't you brush up on a few things and come back next year? We'll hold a place for you!' It strikes me as totally insane. And wrong.

And it's not just America. I earned my master's degree at a British university. They loved non-EU students because they could charge us more. I met a sweet Korean guy who COULD NOT SPEAK ENGLISH. Seriously, I could hardly even have a conversation with him, his English was terrible. I managed to get out of him that the University had required him to complete a six-week English immersion program in Newcastle before he started, but he still couldn't hold a conversation with an easy-to-understand American (his words, not mine.) Let alone read 16th century texts on the British Reformation... I ran into him a few months later and things were 'very bad,' he said. The whole situation made me crazy. It was WRONG to take this guy's money. Wrong.

According to this article from Time magazine, part of the reason students are graduating (if they're graduating at all) with so much debt is because it's taking them longer than the traditional four years to finish. This is partly due to the remedial courses they need, and partly because THEY DON'T KNOW WHY THEY'RE THERE. They don't know what they want to study. They don't know what they want to be when they grow up. So they switch majors and need to take additional classes, or can't get into the ones they need.

I'm sorry, do students not get advisers anymore? When I was in college, I had an adviser who... you guessed it... ADVISED me. She told me what courses I needed and made sure I was on track. I had to get my course sheet signed by her. My college was pretty hands-off, but they still made me go through an adviser. Is this no longer required? Seriously, I'm asking.

We have to stop convincing people that they absolutely need college or they will live a life of misery. Yes, college graduates tend to earn more than non-graduates, but I'm betting if we teased out those statistics, we'd find the very super high earners and the minimum-wage earners probably skew the results. There are plenty of people who don't go to college and do just fine. Managers of restaurants, retail, plumbers, electricians and others who learn a valuable trade. They don't necessarily NEED college. If they want to go, great! But need? Maybe not.

We also have to get over this whole college-as-rite-of-passage thing. A friend of mine is Canadian. She's married to an American and she almost had a fit when her husband said he'd be happy to pay for room and board for their kids to go to a local school, so they could have 'the college experience.' My Canadian friend thought it absolute madness that they should pay thousands for their kids to basically drink, party and hook-up when they could live at home for free.

And sadly, I think that's what college boils down to for many. I'm not saying college shouldn't be an option for anyone who really wants to go and has the ABILITY to GET ACCEPTED, DO THE WORK, GRADUATE and GET A JOB. But we need to stop making it a requirement--be it an employment requirement or a social one--when it isn't really required.

I totally agree that the cost of college is insane. It just gets more insane by the year. Many of my friends are doing the college visit thing with their high school children. The stories I hear of the luxury and opulence at some of these places is unbelievable. I hear tell of 24-hour sushi bars in student centers, dorm rooms with private baths, student gyms with amenities rivaling any posh Manhattan sweat spot. The dorms are like hotels! It's crazy. And for what it's worth, the really good schools don't tend to do this stuff. They don't need to. Yale has enough screamers clawing at their doors, they don't need to fluff up their facilities.

So I think we need to ask our kids, do you really need to go to college? Is there a profession you really want to go into? What interests you? Do you even like school? Or are we just looking at college because that's what's expected? Are we willing to value work--ALL WORK that is good and honest and decent? If a high school kid really loves Snap Circuits and really wants to be an electrician rather than an electrical engineer, can't we be ok with that? Electricians can do very well. Believe me. We've had our house rewired. We know, you know?

Sigh... there's so much more I could say, but I need to empty the dishwasher, which is also good, honest work, by the way.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

This Chick and her Eggs: More Thoughts on Aging

Recently I was talking with a friend about my injuries. I have my torn rotator cuff, which I've mentioned before, but I also have something going on with my hip. I think it's to do with my psoas. It's annoying, and both force me to modify my life more than I would like. I joked with her that it's my 'mid-life crisis.'

And it's true. I'm realizing my injuries have really brought on a mid-life crisis of sorts for me. They're forcing me to recognize that my body is changing. My hair is graying, my skin is thinner. I've put on a few pounds that reasonable effort will not remove. I get a little stiff and creaky. I can no longer do some of the high-intensity exercise I enjoy, or at least, not as often. And my cycles have changed--a lot. I'm pretty certain there will be no more little darlings pattering about the house.

Some of these changes are fine. I have no particular longings for more darlings. The two I have occupy my time and affections quite thoroughly. I don't even mind the aesthetic changes... at least, not too much. And my darling husband loves me just as I am... he's a true Mark Darcy in all the best ways, and for that, I am thankful.

I do miss the workouts. I miss the daily lala fix. I don't like being stiff and creaky, and I struggle with what to do with it in my mind. Is this the 'new normal?' Or can I get back some of that youthful vitality with lifestyle changes? If it's the former, then that's fine. I could make my peace with it, but I struggle. Not knowing if improvement is even possible makes me long for it.

But a funny thing happens when I discuss it with others. When I point out to people the obvious: that I am no longer a 'young woman,' that I am firmly within the stage of 'middle age,' they often react very strongly. "You're still young! You're not middle aged!"

Seriously, I've had people say that to me. Um, yes, I am a middle-aged woman. I am no longer young. I may be 'younger than' plenty of people, but if life expectancy has me living into my eighties, then my mid-forties puts me firmly in the middle of life.

Yet as a culture, we seem to be terribly uncomfortable with that truth. A young woman is vital, sexy, full of life and fecundity. A middle-aged woman... even the sound of it conjures an image of a frumpy woman past her 'prime.' We worship youth, we pursue it at great cost. The anti-aging industry is enormously profitable, and they have made it such at we deny the fact that youth is fleeting. The simple fact that we reject the reality that youth has passed reveals our ambivalence about it.


Years ago I stumbled across a very interesting and entertaining blog called A Chick and Eggs. It was written by a woman who was trying to conceive using donor eggs. (I found it because I was facing up to the fact that at thirty-eight, I had been diagnosed with 'diminished ovarian reserves.' In short, I was running out of eggs. The doctor told me the best he could do for me was IVF with donor eggs. We were not interested in that, and happily I found out a few weeks later that I was already pregnant with Darling Son #2.)

Anyway, this blogger wrote a somewhat controversial post speculating about reproductive technologies used by celebrities. She had no inside knowledge as to how these stars had conceived their children, but based on their ages and other circumstances, she guessed who might have used donor eggs. Realistically, a 45-year-old woman bearing a child has almost certainly not used her own eggs. By our mid-forties, our chances of conceiving on our own are pretty slim. (Maybe you know someone who did, but that's not the norm.)

Many of the comments criticized the blogger for digging into these people's personal lives, that they were entitled to some measure of privacy. While that's true, the blogger held her ground. She pointed out that many celebrities have nearly unlimited funds to pursue the latest in assisted reproductive technologies, plastic surgeries and other enhancements. They live in a world where failing to avail themselves of these opportunities means career suicide, but in doing so, they promote the myth of eternal bloom and fertility. She felt they had a moral obligation to own up to the extreme measures they took to extend their youth and fecundity well past the age when it would naturally be gone.

We live in an age of possibility, and particularly for us Americans, we tend toward relentless optimism. We're told with hard work and hard cash we can extend pert freshness indefinitely. But when we try to tap into all these possibilities, we lose something... that quiet contentment that can come from just... accepting. We're all aging. Time is moving on, and with it's passing we gain some things, and lose others.

Over the last few months, I've been grieving these changes I see in myself. And I'll be honest, all the assurances I get from people that I'm still young! do not help me. The more we deny this reality, the more we entomb the idea that middle-age is this terrible, terrible thing. One that must be denied and battled and beaten into submission. It reminds me of a commercial I saw for face cream years ago. The woman said, 'People talk about aging gracefully. Not me! I'm going to fight it every step of the way!' Good grief. Does this strike anyone else as silly?

I can't help but think I have more important things to do than deny reality and fight the inevitable. Even though I struggle, I must say, for all the vim and vigor I had in my younger days, I realize I wouldn't go back for all the world. I was a neurotic mess at twenty-five! No, thank you. I'll keep my wit and wisdom, and leave the fast-paced burpees to the young.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Myth of the Ideal Diet

I'm currently engaged in a most interesting discussion about the merits, or lack thereof, of animal foods with a vegan and a really-limit-your-animal-foods person on Facebook. I've never met either one of them, but they're delightful, interesting and the whole conversation is civil and respectful. So it can happen. I know we often only hear about the mud-slinging, but rational, polite discourse can occur online and I think we should shout 'hurrah!' when it does.

So hurrah!

Anyhoo, as you all know, I'm not a vegan. In fact, I recently bought half a grass-fed cow from a rancher in Maine. As a former vegetarian, I've been converted to the moo-side, but I think it's important to note that there is no one ideal diet for everyone. Our nutritional needs change, and our dietary habits shift based on a number of factors. 


A few months ago, I read a most interesting book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A. Price. I know, snappy title. Sounds like a real page-turner. I'll own that it's a bit dry in spots, but the premise is fascinating. 

Dr. Price was a dentist from Cleveland, Ohio. He noticed that dental health was declining in his practice with each subsequent generation. He wondered why this might be, so with his wife, Martha, he embarked on a lengthy tour of the world in the early 1930s. The Prices visited remote areas of the globe, tracking down isolated people groups to study their teeth. They started in the Swiss Alps, visiting a village that was not yet connected to the modern world by road and traveled through Europe, to arctic regions of North America, islands of the South Pacific and remote African tribes. 

As you might imagine, the diets of these different people were as varied as the landscapes in which they lived. The Swiss lived on raw milk, cheese and a type of sourdough bread, the Inuits of the arctic ate only fish, meat and a little seaweed, the Masai of Africa ate meat, milk and animal blood, the South Pacific islanders ate mostly fish, fruit and vegetables, and so on. In short, the people ate what was available. Foods that were difficult to digest were prepared in ways to aid digestion. The prized cuts of meat were always the fattiest, particularly the organs. Our now expensive tenderloins would have often been fed to the dogs. 

Instead of finding people riddled with cavities and heart disease, Dr. and Mrs. Price found the opposite. In these communities, the people who consumed their traditional foods enjoyed remarkably good dental and physical health. The only ones who suffered were those who had adopted the sugary refined foods of the modern diet. 

One picture Dr. Price took from an isolated island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland is particularly telling:

The island had only recently been connected to the mainland via ferry service, and with the ferries came all the modern foods--refined flour, sugar, jams, Crisco and tinned foods. The brother on the left worked at the ferry dock and enjoyed the modern foods. His teeth began rotting and the father said this son struggled to get out of bed in the morning. The brother on the right ate the traditional food the islanders had been eating for centuries--mostly codfish and oats, traditionally prepared. He had no dental decay and excellent health. Not a varied diet, but whole food and no 'displacing foods of modern commerce,' as Price called them.

These men are brothers. Same genes, different food. 

Dr. Price found the same tragic effects in every place he visited. These 'displacing foods of modern commerce' resulted in rampant tooth decay and illness.

As I've been discussing the meat/plant debate on Facebook, I'm struck by what a luxurious age we live in. We are no longer constrained by what is seasonal, what is available wherever we live. We can get pretty much any food, any time. This tremendous liberty is, in some respects, a blessing. I'm guessing oat-stuffed codfish gets pretty old after a while. But the dark side is navigating our way through this sea, both literal and figurative, of food options we have set before us. There is so much choice. And not all of it is to our benefit. 

There are many lessons to be learned from Dr. Price's research, but one key take-away is this: a steady diet of sugar and refined foods is not good. For anyone. Apart from that, there are many, many ways of eating that can be good for us. Take your pick!

Monday, August 3, 2015

What to do when you gain weight

Over the winter I put on some weight. I truly did not notice this was occurring. Probably because I was too busy shoveling.

I discovered this most inconvenient truth sometime in late May, as I was digging out my summer clothes. Back in October, I had bought a very cute skirt with the little shorts underneath, a most convenient garment for the mother-of-small-people. Loved this thing. Very excited to wear it. Fir back in October, so assumed it would fit in May.

But it was tight. Way tight. Thanks to the Lycra contained therein, I could get it on, but it looked.... Not good. And it felt even worse. So I got on the scale and whoa.... Nearly 15lbs.

Oh dear. I try not to freak about weight. As I've mentioned before, I don't think it is the most important thing. It's a thing, but not the most important one. But the fact that all my summer clothes were tight was a most depressing development.

I started doing some detective work and discovered that part of my problem was the anti-inflammatory I was taking for my torn rotator cuff. I am not sorry I took it, but meds can absolutely affect these sorts of things. I gradually went off and and boom! Nearly 5lbs. Gone. That still leaves with 10 extra, but hey, every little bit helps.

You know what else I did?

I bought some new clothes. Not a whole wardrobe, just a couple of skirts and two capris. I honestly cannot account for those 10lbs. I eat a healthy diet and move around a lot. I'm going to explore some other things that might be contributing, but I'm not going to starve myself or engage in punishing exercise, both of which I suspect would be counter-productive anyway, but I'm also not going to walk around in too-tight clothes feeling lousy about myself.

Which leads me to my point. (I always get ther!) you know why people have muffin tops? Because their clothes don't fit. Maybe they need to cultivate some different habits, but first stop is a new pair of jeans. Because life is too short to walk around feeling like. A polish sausage in a hot dogs dress.*

*thats a good one! Hugh? Credit goes to my old roommate Amy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

How Many Burpees in a Chocolate Bar?

One of my Facebook friends (who also shares my birthday AND my Myers-Briggs personality type, making us two peas in the proverbial pod) recently posted a little mini-rant about this article on PopSugar.

Ms. Jenny Sugar has calculated how many burpees must be performed to burn off various dietary indulgences. She allows that 'we all need to indulge a little and satisfy our cravings,' but admits that 'sometimes when you try to eat just a little square of dark chocolate, you end up eating the entire bar!'

I feel you, Jenny. Truly. 

So Jenny did some math for us and came up with how many minutes of burpees must be performed to burn off some seriously yummy foods. That dark chocolate bar? One hour of burpees. Whoa.

Burpees are also called squat thrusts. (I don't know why they're called burpees, but my little boys have their theories are and laughing uproariously as I type.) They are also notoriously wicked hard. Just one or two isn't bad, but burpeeing for an hour... ow. Go ahead and try one.

I'll wait.

See? Hard. This is how most people feel about burpees:
Image: pinterest
Before I get into the psychological fly in the ointment, I would like to pop a hole in Ms. Sugar's balloon. I really hate to diss anyone who does math because we all know how much I hate it, but really, how many calories people burn doing anything is SO HIGHLY VARIABLE. I guarantee Tom Brady wouldn't need to do an hour of burpees to burn off that chocolate bar. He's a big guy. He could just toss around a well-inflated football for a few minutes, if he can find one.

(Doh! I'm going to be exiled to Rhode Island for that one!)

Jenny's point, of course, is for us to think long and hard about whether or not we should really eat that yummy-fill-in-the-blank because that is a lot of hard slogging to pay for it. But my FB/birthday/MBTI twin said we should just enjoy a treat from time to time and not get all worked up about 'paying it off,' and I couldn't agree more. Wow, we March 25th INFJs are so in-synch!

One of bday/MBTI twin's friends said she liked the burpee currency because she, like pretty much everyone, hates burpees, so thinking of an indulgence in these terms really gives her pause. And I get that. But still... I hate thinking of exercise as punishment, as penance for enjoying a treat.

So how do you avoid schnarfing down the whole chocolate bar? I find when I limit my sugar intake, I struggle with way fewer cravings that are even asking to be satisfied. When I eat whole, real food, as close to it's natural state as possible, I am far less likely to binge. As for chocolate, I eat the really dark stuff. No binge... it's too intense.

But as a recovering binger, I am still vulnerable, so I just don't keep that stuff in the house. Anything that really tempts me I only buy or make for special occasions, and then I simply.... enjoy it.

No burpees required.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Redefining Romance and Excitement

I speak French. Or, at least, I used to. Now I just shout 'on y va!' to my children in the mornings and 'ouvre ta bouche, s'il te plait' when I brush their teeth. Though I'm thinking I should seek to resurrect my French skills, in the event that the Darling Husband comes home saying, "Guess what?! We're going to France!" That would be exciting!

The DH is out of town, so last night I decided to search some French movies on Amazon. Watching TV in french is how I made serious progress all those years ago, when my memory was young and impressionable.

But here's the problem: just about every movie I previewed was about adultery. It seems some showed consequences for this, which I appreciate. I didn't stick around to find out what those were, but prior to the consequences, there was the promise of lot of steamy sex. Which I suppose is how affairs work usually. I still felt annoyed, however. What is it with these French film makers? Why is everyone having affairs? Why can't we ever find movies about passionate marriages?? Why is every marriage depicted as so boring or difficult that people have affairs?

I got fed up and annoyed and I realize this is not a precursor to sleep, so I started perusing light, frothy American movies. These aren't so much about adultery, but dating. Have you ever noticed that practically every light, frothy American movie is about how couples get together? And they're almost always young, skinny and beautiful.

Seriously. Every. Single. Movie. How to get together. Never how to stay together. It seems that marriage is not deemed film-worthy. Marriage is boring. It is not romantic. It is not exciting. Only getting there is romantic and exciting, but once you're there, you're watching something that's telling you to look elsewhere.

It's like you're expected to start out with an American movie and end up with a French one.


The DH and I are celebrating our tenth anniversary this year. And you know what? We still love each other. In fact, we still like each other. But if movies were to be believed, one or both of us should really be shopping around for some romance and excitement.

The older I get, the more the definitions of these terms change. I think it's romantic that my husband comes home to me at night, rather than finding an excuse to be out. I think its wicked cool that he fixed the furnace. Honestly. The furnace died and my clever man fixed it. (You never think a man in a headlamp is sexy until the house is really cold.) And 'excitement?' It is exciting when you're rushing to the hospital because your child just had a seizure on the school bus, but it isn't good.

Still, no one would want to watch a movie of my life. Everyone gets along too well, and I don't think we're going to see a headlamp-wearing suitor on The Bachelor anytime soon. But I don't think the problem is my life. The problem is the movies. Or at least, too many of them consumed without a healthy dose of real life in between. Too many movies make finding contentment in real life impossible.

We need to redefine romance. Sometimes it's just bringing in a flower from the garden. Or looking out the window at our small people frolicking on the grass to the melodious soundtrack of the neighbor's lawnmower.

This is the life we've made together. And it's good.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Five Things I've Learned from My Injury

Gosh, I rant a lot, don't I? I probably sound like I'm an angry person, but I'm really not. Really. I'm generally pretty sanguine. I think sometimes I rant on my blog because I need an outlet, especially lately. But I'm sorry if I'm ranting too much. I'll try to be more cheerful.
That's my little darling in the hospital the day after Christmas.
He's pretty much always happy, even in the hospital at Christmas.  Love that about him. 

Part of the reason I've been ranting, though, is my &%*#! shoulder injury. (sorry... CHEERFUL!) Injuries are so annoying. I finally got around to getting an MRI. It turns out I have a rotator cuff tear. It's not a big one so it doesn't require surgery to repair it, but it's kind of extra messed up because I have loads of scar tissue and adhesions and infammation because I... well... waited too long to get it looked at.

So, in the interest of every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining/whenever-God-closes-a-door-somewhere-He-opens-a-window, etc, I'm going to share with you what I've learned from my injury:

  1. Don't wait to see someone. This is my biggest regret and one I have resolved to remedy forthwith. My shoulder has been bothering me off-and-on for two years, but I never saw anyone about it because I was in St. Mother mode and I just did not prioritize my own health and well-being. It's not that you have to rush into the doc for every little ache and pain, but little aches and strains get better... and stay better. Bad things don't go away with a little ice and a rest. They might feel a little better, but then they come back. I should have figured that out sooner. My bad.
  2. Sometimes, you need to take the drugs. I don't like taking drugs. I'd rather do pretty much any lifestyle change to avoid medication. I really do believe our bodies can often heal themselves with good food, appropriate movement, rest, etc... but sometimes, they can't. My doctor prescribed a pretty potent anti-inflammatory for me and whoa... can we say helpful?? Once we got the inflammation under control, things have gotten a lot better. I tried to do this with diet (remember the Whole &%#*!@ 30?) but it didn't work. I needed the drugs. Lesson learned.
  3. I need movement like I need air and water. I knew this before, but after taking several weeks off from any lalala-producing exercise, I learned that while my closets are beautifully organized, I need to move. I need the movement. We were made to move. (No, a shoulder injury does not require total rest, but one doctor was concerned it might be disc-related and so suggested total rest for a while. Mercifully, not disc-related. Phew.)
  4. The perfect really is the enemy of the good. It's better to modify the living daylights out of the workout and DO it, rather than not do anything at all. I modify now. A lot.
  5. Functionality trumps aesthetics every.single.time. I believed that before, but whoa, I really believe it now. You can be cute as a button, but if you can't move and live pain-free and get all your stuff done, all the cuteness is the world is like dust in the wind.
So those are my deep thoughts for the day. I've also been exploring some very interesting recovery techniques that I am excited to share with you (CHEERFUL!), but I'm off the Bar Method. I'm going to do pushups against the barre with my head held high.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Don't Shut Me Up: Why We Need to Allow Respectful Dissent

I stepped into a bit of a hornet's nest today. The internet variety, I mean.

I belonged to a closed Facebook group devoted to the Firm, a 1980's workout video series that developed a cult following, of which I was a proud member.

The Firm was created by Anna Benson, who pioneered the integration of heavier weights in women's workouts in an era when weights were not the done thing. Women feared lifting anything heavier than a Campbell's soup can would make them 'bulky.' Anna said, 'pffft' to that and developed a series of truly wonderful, if not kinda 80's cheesy, workout videos that got me into fitness and truly changed my life. I will always be grateful to Anna for her creativity and vision. Anna ended up selling the Firm and they are still going, but in my opinion, the new Firm is nothing like it was in Anna's glory days.

However, Anna wrote a book sometime in the 1990's called Firm for Life.
It got generally pretty terrible reviews on Amazon, but I was such a Firm junkie that I bought it anyway. I ended up agreeing with terrible reviews. I did not find the book helpful, and I did not like Anna's attitude toward appearance or her treatment of other fitness professionals. I recall she even went so far as to call exercise pioneer Jack LaLanne's skin 'crepey.' She lectured us on the importance of politeness, then comes out with that? Mean girl, maybe?

The take-away image I got of Anna was that she was shallow, catty and entirely too image-conscious. Maybe she wasn't like that really, but that's how she came across to me, and a lot of other people. But hey, nobody's perfect and Anna put out a good workout back in her day so I can get over it. I just didn't need to know her views on grey hairs ('for heaven's sake--cover those greys!'), thong underwear ('so important because we wouldn't want panty lines!') or her book list that would help me develop my 'Firm spirit.' I didn't see what that had to do with workouts and healthy eating.

So, what does this have to do with hornets?

Someone on this Facebook group asked about the book. 'It got really bad reviews--what does everyone think? Should I buy it?'

Oh, the responses were glowing!

"The book is so wonderful!"

"I loved it!"

"I'm so glad I bought it!"

I'm thinking, really? So I chimed in with my thoughts. I didn't like the book. (I might have described it as 'terrible.') I didn't think it was useful, I thought Anna came across as mean-spirited and shallow. I said I would probably have felt uncomfortable around her because I don't get regular manicures. I emphasized that while I loved the workouts, I could have done without the book. I said if you find it for a bargain price, check it out. But I wouldn't pay $35 on eBay. Or something along those lines.

Whoa. Cue hornets. While the person who asked the question seemed to appreciate my comments, others decidedly did not. I was called a 'Debbie Downer' and basically accused of being a negative troll. The group used to be 'fun and inspirational,' and now here I had the temerity to criticize Anna. No one had ever said such awful things about Anna before.

I was, quite frankly, agog. Someone asked a question, and I gave my opinion. Someone was making a purchasing decision, so I gave her my honest appraisal of the book. I was told, "We don't say bad things about Anna. She changed our lives." Did I mention Anna died a few years ago? 'We don't say bad things about the dead. People who knew her read this.' But, I reasoned, "someone wanted to know if she should spend money on the book, would it be a worthwhile purchase? Are we not allowed to answer 'no' to that question? Are we supposed to be all sunshine and roses??"

"That would be nice," I was told.

One hornet told me I should go start my own group if I wanted to say negative things about Anna.

Oh. Ok.

The whole thing reminded me of a blog post I read recently entitled 'The Worst Advice My Mother Ever Gave Me." What might that be? Author Deb Rankin said it was that parenting classic, 'if you don't have anything nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all.'

She writes:
Encouragement and positive words are great, but the advice is dangerous for several reasons. Breaking the connection between emotion and communication makes one lonely and isolated, because no one knows the real you. Suppressed thoughts will come out, not always in healthy ways. Finally, the world needs people brave enough to speak out against evil and bad behavior.

I'm willing to bet Deb's mother (and mothers across the globe) mean for us to avoid unkindness and gossip, and I'm all for that. But I think Deb makes some good points. Sadly, the internet has become a breeding ground for bad behavior. All you have to do is click on the comments link to any number of articles to read nasty, rude, obscene remarks people make. "You stupid [insert expletive]! You don't know your [expletive] from your [expletive]! I hope you rot in [expletive]!" There is no place for that in a civilized society, and I truly grieve when I see some of what is written.

However, my comments were not of that ilk. They were pointed, but rational. I provided examples to support my opinions. And in fairness, the hornets were not nasty. But to shut down reasoned discourse, to halt a sensible dialogue just because we don't like what someone is saying... that's sad, too.

When we write, we put ourselves 'out there.' We have to expect that people might not like what we say, they might not agree, but I for one welcome respectful dissent. Muscles don't change without resistance. People don't change without challenge.

After some reflection, I decided to 'unjoin' the Facebook group. It was clear the members didn't want me there, and I don't want to be part of any group where I get a smackdown for thinking critically and expressing a dissenting opinion. It's just too... well... cultish.

What do you think? By all means, share. Respectful dissent is welcome!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

By Aiming at Weight, We Miss the Mark

I've never liked math, and I've never really been particularly good at it. Math was painful in school, so I had to be creative to get through it. I ended up assigning personalities to the different digits and putting them on teams--the answer to the equation meant a point for the particular team and whichever team had the most points at the end of the worksheet won. I had to make a game of it because it was so painfully boring.

But people love numbers, especially those relating to health. Numbers are neat and tidy, (or so it seems.) Doctors and journalists like to assess people's state of health according to the numbers--weight, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. Some of those numbers really are significant, like blood pressure. A BP too high or too low really does spell trouble, but those other numbers? Mmmm, maybe not so much.

Recently I read the book Secrets of the Eating Lab by psychologist Traci Mann of the University of Minnesota. Mann spends a good bit of time explaining why diets, that is, restrictive ways of eating that are meant to result in weight loss, are not effective.

Certainly, most people lose weight on diets, but apparently only 5% of dieters are able to maintain this weight loss over the long haul. 

Yes, 95% of people who lose weight through dieting gain back some, all or even more weight. And so they go back to dieting and repeat the process again. And again, and again. This lather, rinse, repeat action is called 'weight cycling,' or in common parlance, 'yo-yo dieting.' Some research suggests this is very not good for us, that remaining heavier is actually healthier than going up and down, over and over. Even if weight cycling were perfectly healthy physically, it has to be massively head-wrecking.

But what about that 5%, you might say?

A few months ago, I watched an HBO documentary called The Weight of the Nation. (It's on youtube, if you're interested, but I can't say I would necessarily recommend it.) One segment features two women who have both lost 100 or so pounds and kept it off for over a year. They're happier and healthier and feel great, and that's great!

But wow... maintaining their lower weights is like a full-time job. They speed-walk miles everyday. They were shown ordering lunch for takeout. Just deciding what they were going to eat involved calculator, pen and paper. It was like a meeting of the Congressional Budget Office. (Not that I've ever been to one, but you know what I mean.) "We could get this instead of that, ask them to cook it this way, take away the sauce and that saves us 200 calories!" For real. This is how these women live. And I respect them for it, but I suspect this kind of effort is why so many people gain back the weight. That's a lot of thinking and math involved in just ordering lunch... even for someone who likes math.

Of course, there are physiological reasons why weight regain happens, but I suspect a lot of it is that the behaviors required to lose the weight in the first place are just not sustainable. Draconian calorie restriction, tedious calorie counting, lengthy and/or unfun, grueling workouts. We just can't keep them up, and so we don't.

Mann recommends shooting for your 'leanest, livable weight,' meaning that number at which you can comfortably live without heroic effort. Research shows we all have a set weight range--a spectrum at which our bodies are most comfortable. We can influence this number to some degree through lifestyle choices, but it requires serious effort to lose--or even gain--a significant amount outside this range.

This sounds like good advice, but I'd really prefer to think of it as adopting habits. Excessive weight gain is sometimes just a symptom of bad habits. Focusing on the weight misses the mark. Shoot for healthy behaviors, tackle them one at a time, until they become (at least somewhat) effortless.

It might require a drastic change at first to break a habit--as I did in giving up sugar last year, but now not eating sugar is normal for me. It's effortless. I don't experience strong cravings or even enjoy very sweet stuff anymore. It didn't result in any significant weight loss--in fact, I've actually gained a little weight in the past year--but reducing my sugar consumption was an absolutely healthy habit. But focusing on the scale number wouldn't have helped me. Instead, I might have become discouraged and been tempted to give up an undoubtedly good habit.

I can appreciate why people like the numbers. They're quantifiable. You can pretty easily measure numbers, but the big picture--the important one--is more than just the math.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

People... People Who Need People: The Story of Weight Watchers

I just read in the newspaper that Jean Nidetch has died at the ripe old age of 91. Don't know who Jean is? Read on, and I'll tell you a story...

Who was Jean?
Jean Nidetch was an unhappy Long Island housewife who was tired of being fat. She had struggled with her weight all her life and was ready to make a change. She consulted her doctor on how to lose weight. He gave her a particular diet and told her to follow it to the letter. Apparently it involved eating liver, which Jean said she didn't like. He told her to 'eat it anyway.'

Jean followed the fairly draconian diet and lost twenty pounds, but found her motivation flagging. So she invited her friends and neighbors into her living room every Saturday morning for weekly weigh-ins, "empathy, rapport and mutual understanding." The group soon outgrew Jean's living room and mushroomed beyond her wildest dreams.

Jean and her little group became what we know as Weight Watchers, a weight-loss business that is a household name around the world. (By the way, her maiden name was Slutsky. Can you imagine? I would have gotten married in a New York minute to have gotten rid of that one.)

What's interesting about old school Weight Watchers is that it wasn't about the diet--it was the support of meeting together with others. Weight Watchers' actual eating recommendations have shifted and morphed over the years. The secret of Weight Watchers' initial success is the accountability their system provided. There are WW locations all over the world, and people still go to weekly meetings despite the fact that I'm told they are about as dull as dry toast. Toast that will cost you points, by the way.

How It Works Now
Weight Watchers has changed a lot over the years. It's no longer just about meeting together. It now sells a wide variety of frozen and packaged frankenfood. There is also an online version that people can do on their own.

The modern incarnation of WW is basic calorie counting. They don't specifically count calories--they count 'points,' and each point corresponds to a certain number of calories. I think it's something like 50 calories per point. You are given an allotment of points each day, and once you've exceeded your points, you can't eat anything other than points-free foods, like vegetables. You can eat anything you want, but you have to stay within your points. You figure out pretty quickly not to spend your points frivolously so you don't have to munch on celery for dinner.

Many people have successfully lost weight on this plan, but like most other diets, many of them also gain it back. In fact, even after her great success, with both weight loss and a business that made her a millionaire, Jean continued to struggle with weight for the rest of her life. According to her Wall Street Journal obituary, "Her philosophy on weight loss was that it required constant maintenance. Weight Watchers members were taught to weigh in once a week and stay within two pounds of their goals."

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about Weight Watchers.
I did the online version after I had the Darling Son #2. Life was crazy at that time and I'm an uptight, type-A personality. I needed some accountability to get back on track after the blissful flow of meals from the church ladies stopped. I came within a few pounds of my pre-kids weight and couldn't get any lower. I got frustrated and then just figured that's where my body wanted to be and made my peace with it.

I'm going to talk more about 'goal weight' in another post, but I was initially pretty positive about Weight Watchers. I liked that it didn't put a lot of restriction on what you could eat, instead they just gave you a guideline and had you figure it out. It did give you a sense of ownership about your choices, rather than an 'eat this, not that' kind of guideline.

But the more I read and learn, the more inclined I am to dislike the focus on the scale and the calorie-counting strategy. All calories are not created equal, and it simply doesn't seem to work for people long-term. WW has a very high rate of weight regain--and so does pretty much every other diet brand out there. And really, I think what we weigh is not the most important health indicator.

The restriction of calorie counting is just not sustainable. Most people will lose weight on pretty much any restrictive diet. The hard part is keeping it off.  Cynics like to point out that WW really profits from those who regain and re-enroll over and over and over. Regain just seems to be part and parcel of dieting. One reason for this is that....

Dieting is Stressful
Researcher Janet Tomiyama from the University of California at Los Angeles conducted a study on stress and dieting. According to the book Secrets from the Eating Lab by Traci Mann, Tomiyama divided dieters in different groups. Some were required to simply track their calories, others had to both track and restrict calories, and some just restricted and did not track their eating (these participants were given pre-packaged meals to ensure they consumed no more than their allotted 1,200 calories per day. Yikes--that's not a lot.)

Then Tomiyama tested the dieters' cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone that we have talked about before. Producing excess cortisol can lead to fat gain, especially in the middle where too much adipose tissue is particularly problematic from a health perspective.

Tomiyama found that the dieters all had elevated cortisol levels. The simple act of dieting had produced a stress response in their bodies. As Mann writes, "It's not just that people should avoid stress while dieting. It's that stress cannot be avoided when you are dieting, because dieting itself causes stress."

I suppose stress is only one part of why restrictive diets fail, but I can help but love what Weight Watchers was all about in the beginning. It was simply getting people together. Get them face to face, build community, and let them support each other.

To keep up with the times, WW also offers an online system. You don't have to go to boring meetings, you just track your eating online. As convenient as the online version is, it doesn't replace the warm fuzziness (or, for that matter, the accountability potential) of real, live, standing-right-in-front-of-you people.

I can't see how anytime a group of neighbors getting together weekly to laugh, cry and high-five each other wouldn't be a good thing. I would have loved to have been in Jean Nidetch's living room meetings all those years ago. Jean was a stitch. (I suppose you'd have to develop a sense of humor if you grew up with a name like 'Slutsky.') Laughter and friends are good for both body and soul.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bottoms Up! If Barre Classes Were Drinks

Barre studios have become *quite* prolific. So many have been opening in my area and I've checked out a few on my travels. I'm delighted to see barre really catching on nationally and globally. While I have my favorites, I find what works for one person might not work for another. We all have our preferences and priorities, and I think there is probably a barre for everyone.

Before I start, a few disclaimers: this is primarily based on live studio classes I've attended. I'm also mentioning online/DVD offerings. I've taken a lot of classes at some studios, and just a few at others.

And so, in no particular order, here's the barre mom's definitive guide:

A fine, rich cabernet sauvignon served in a beautifully appointed bar with a very attentive bartender making certain you are swirling your glass with just the right turn of the wrist and consuming it in the most effective manner.

As I mentioned in my review, TBM instructors are top-notch and very attentive. They will make sure you are getting the most out of your trip to the barre. This is very important to me and it's the main reason TBM is one of my top picks.

The Bar Method has been around for a long time, but growth has been at a measured pace, largely I suspect because of the long training period required of instructors. They're big on quality control. TBM offers several DVDs and has a large and growing library of online workouts with a variety of subscription options. I'd say the online workouts are on par with classes in terms of difficulty. I don't do the online workouts, however. I'm into TBM for the live instruction. It's not the cheapest workout around, but you get what you pay for. I give TBM an A for accessibility.

You might like Bar Method if: 

  • You prize really great, personalized instruction. They've got your back. Trust me.

  • You're a newbie. Since the workout tends to be slower-paced and ultra form-focused, it's great for beginners.

  • You're more experienced and, consequently, you're not getting a whole lot of love at other studios. Instructors naturally focus much of their attention on students newer to barre, and that's totally understandable. Making sure the newer students have a sound grasp on good form is important. But more experienced students need some extra challenge to progress, too. I find TBM to be great in this respect.

You might not like TBM if:

  • You like to fly under the radar. It's standard practice to call out form corrections at The Bar Method. I actually appreciate this because it means we can all benefit from one another, but I know some people don't like this. One person who's done TBM in another state told me she cringed out of fear that they'd call her out. If you like private correction, or to walk in and walk out without being noticed, TBM might not be the be the barre for you.

  • You like a lot of variety. Bar Method classes do tend to be a little same-same. You'll see certain exercises quite frequently--some every class. 

  • You're looking for some cardio. Bar Method classes are strictly for 'toning.'(I hate that word, but that's for another post.) Stretches tend to be brisk and there is little heart-rate elevation going on here. There is a 'Bar Move' class offered at some locations, but it hasn't come to my local yet. Apparently the moves are sequenced to give a little cardio boost. I'll try it one of these days and let you know what I think.

A mojito, made with the best, most expensive rum, and depending on who is teaching, you might find an umbrella in that drink.

P57 is very fast-paced. The tempo definitely brings the challenge level up a few notches. Instructors are uber-engaging and sometimes downright entertaining. P57 doesn't have a lot of studios (only in NYC, The Hamptons, LA., Dubai and now Bangkok), but they have DVDs and super pricey online workouts.

You might like P57 if:

  • You find the average barre workout too slow or boring and you like to get some serious cardio/sweating along with your strength training. You will sweat at Physique. If you're not, you're either not a sweat-er, or you're not doing it right.

  • You're more advanced and want some killer class options. Yes, Physique has options, which is so nice. In addition to the signature class (which comes in beginner, mixed, intermediate and advanced), there is pilates-inspired Mat, more advanced Formula 57 and a variety of special workshops and themed classes. 

  • You like a high fun factor in your workouts. Oh my, Physique is so fun! I mean, fun in a very challenging sort of way. Most of the instructors are performers of one sort or another, so they are often quite entertaining. This can also up the challenge level--try to hold a forearm plank while Tanya Becker or Neil Totten are cracking jokes. Whoa.

  • You have plenty of cash and are willing to spend it on your workouts. The price tag is STEEP. More on that later.

You might not like P57 if:

  • You're a beginner and are just learning the ropes. I cut my teeth on P57, so starting here certainly can be done, but even beginner classes at the studios move quickly and it can be tough to keep up. For me, I needed the fast pace to keep me interested, but it's not for everyone.

  • You prefer a more serene, 'meditative' workout. The stretching can be serene, but that's about it. Otherwise it's a pumping beat and go-go-go!

  • You don't live in a studio location, you don't have pots of dough, and you've burned out on their limited selection of DVDs. P57 launched online workouts at a hefty $57 per month. They've only released a handful of streaming workouts for that sky-high price, though there are a few more in the pipeline. As much as I love P57, they get a C for accessibility.

Even with those cons, I can't deny that Physique 57 is still my all-time fave. I've been known to go to rather extreme lengths to take classes there (see here and here.) I *heart* Physique 57. <sigh>

Ok, moving on...

A green smoothie served up in a perfectly aligned glass. Founder Jill Dailey is a kinesiologist who puts a lot of focus on proper alignment and form. You can read my review here.

You might like TDM if:

  • You're a west-coaster. TDM is best represented in the wild west of the USA, though they have studios in other cities and even a couple of international locations.

  • You have specific injuries or other need for modifications. I really haven't found other barre brands to be problematic for me, but TDM does pride itself on being uber-safe, and some of the exercises have a slightly different spin. I've only taken a few TDM classes, but typically found the instructors very attentive and knowledgeable.

  • You need childcare. Certain locations offer childcare at some classes. Check your local listings.

You might not like TDM if:

  • You don't live near a studio. They don't offer streaming service and only have two DVDs, which I have heard are effective but pretty boring. I've never tried them, though. For this reason, I'd give TDM a B- for accessibility.

Independent studios 
New England local Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale. 
A micro-brew beer infused with local character.

I don't typically review local, independent studios since my readership is scattered to the four winds, but forsake not your local indie! There are some real gems out there that may not be affiliated with well-known national barre brands. A nice local in my area is Modern Barre in Chestnut Hill, MA. I've also heard good things about the Hilliard Studio Method in Charlotte, NC, but I've never tried it. Someone please do and report back.

DC locals might want to check out Biker Barre on Capitol Hill, which offers spin and barre classes. Again, never been, but I know some regulars and they love it. It's on my list. And really, who can resist such an awesome name?

I also love the DVDs put out by The Ballet Physique in Colorado, though I've never been to a live class. We flew through Denver last year and I confessed to the Darling Husband that I was hoping for an overnight snow delay so I could try a class. (He didn't seem to share my enthusiasm for that plan.) When I travel, I love checking out different studios. Why eat at Chili's when you can try out a local taqueria? (Burr Leonard is cringing at that comparison, but hey, it's better than KFC!)

You might like indie studios if:

  • You crave variety. Independents aren't constrained by the corporate guidelines to which franchised studios have to conform. Instructors often have the freedom to choose different music and try exercises you might not see in other classes. Modern Barre offers different class programming--a high-intensity interval training and a cardio barre class in addition to the signature barre offering. Owner Julia Williamson ends each barre class with a lavender aromatherapy cool down which is delightful--and trademarked. I mean, really trademarked. (Not like I trademark things.)

You might not like independents if:

  • Obviously, the pros and cons of independents are highly variable, but you might find local studios have a sparse schedule compared to the big names. But really, it depends. Again, check your local listings.


Fresh and bubbly, and definitely chug-worthy, a trip to Core Fusion will leave you lalala just like champers with a splash of OJ.

Like Physique 57, Core Fusion caters to a posh crowd. Studios are located in the most upscale neighborhoods of a few major cities, plus some resort locations. In short, where there are rich people. CF was one of the first off-shoots of the original Lotte Berk Method. Like P57's Tanya Becker, CF founders Elisabeth Halfpapp and Fred DeVito worked at LBM's New York City studio before it shut it's doors in 2005. CF classes are offered in conjunction with exhale spas (yes, the 'e' is lower case.)

CF also has a few DVDs. They are very reasonably-priced, though somewhat different and not nearly as challenging, in my opinion, as the live classes. CF gets a B+ for accessibility.

You might like CF if:

  • You're looking for a special occasion barre. It's a treat to go to CF. Studios are very serene. Mother's Day is coming up (*hint hint) and wouldn't it be nice to go downtown to exhale Core Fusion, take a class and get some sort of yummy spa delight afterwards while you watch the kids and do the breakfast dishes? Why yes, Darling Husband, it would. Thank you for asking!

  • You like options. CF offers several regular classes. In addition to traditional barre, there is yoga, Sport and Bootcamp (which you can read about here, here and here.) I've never tried the yoga, because yoga is really not my thing, but the variety is nice.

You might not like CF if:

  • You live in the burbs and/or don't have money falling out of your wallet. CF is sorta fancy. In truth, barre tends to be fancy. This isn't Planet Fitness, but you get what you pay for. I mean, you'll never find free pizza at a barre studio, but facilities at Core Fusion are really lovely and instruction is great.
= Starbucks

This was probably my easiest drink comparison. Like Starbucks, Pure Barre is pretty much everywhere. It is by far the most prolific barre brand with well over 200 studios throughout the United States and they're expanding into Canada. There is a pretty consistent format to PB workouts and the verbiage is the same no matter where you go. The warm-up is also the same in every studio and changes every three months. Instructors then have a menu of exercises to choose from for the other components of the class. PB studios are independently owned, so classes are not transferable from studio to studio, but if you're travelling and attend another studio, you'll notice it's quite similar to home. (Read my review here.)

PB has a handful of DVDs. Not many, but a few. No streaming yet. DVDs are not available everywhere and are on the higher end of DVD pricing. But there are studios all over the place, so I'd give PB an A for accessibility.

You might like PB if:

  • It's convenient, and it probably is. My local offers many class times throughout the week, and the owner of my local also owns the studio in the neighboring town, so in this case, I can go to either location depending on what best fits my schedule.

  • You like consistency. As mentioned, the format and cueing are pretty much the same wherever you go. They do change up some of the exercises, so you don't get a whole lot of repeat moves, apart from the warm up/arms segment in the beginning.

  • You're looking for friends, not just a workout. This may not be true of all PB locations, but at my local, they really do foster a nice sense of community. They do special challenges and events from time to time, like the Plank Off that I participated in last summer. They have a 'Bring on the Men' event a few times a year, during which women are encouraged to bring husbands, boyfriends, brothers, etc. (I haven't been able to sell this kind of thing to my Darling yet, but you never know.) This might be largely due to my local owner's personality--she's very warm and friendly and very open to feedback. PB can be a nice place to make new friends.

You might not like PB if:

  • You're looking for very attentive, engaging instruction, or advanced options. I've found PB instructors to be kind of hit-or-miss. Some are really on it, while others seem to just roam around the room. Also, the degree of difficulty can vary widely. I've taken some classes that were quite manageable and others that were wicked hard. And since there is only one class type, you don't really know how it's going to be until you're in the middle of it.

  • You're brand new to barre. I've brought a few barre virgins to PB and they've typically found it a little frustrating. Like Starbucks, PB definitely has it's own lingo, so if 'box out your arm on the barre' doesn't mean anything to you, you might find PB frustrating until you learn to speak their language. This can be mitigated by alerting the instructor that you're new. Lots of people got their releves wet at PB, so I'm not saying it's a bad place to start, just not the best, in my opinion.

= a long island iced tea served in a sippy cup.

Barre3 is a mix of a lot of different elements--barre, yoga, pilates, compound moves and it really caters to the Mommy crowd. They are expanding their studio business, and they have a very robust online streaming service, as well as DVDs, a print book and a mobile app. Barre3 definitely gets an A+ for accessibility. (Class review here.)

You might like barre3 if:

  • You need childcare. Barre3 offers it for some classes, and may God bless them for it.

  • You're looking for something a little different. This is not your standard barre class. B3 throws a lot of different elements into the mix and can make for a nice change if you need a break from up-an-inch-down-an-inch.

  • You are looking for a cardio component. The compound moves in barre3 definitely get your heart pumping.

You might not like barre3 if:

  • You don't like lots and lots of reps. I only took one class at barre3 so I'm reticent to criticize anything, but there were LOTS of reps and the instructor said that was typical. So, FYI.

  • You're looking for a serene, calming experience. I didn't find barre3 to be serene. But I don't really need that in a workout. Just my bed. I need my bed to be serene.


So there you go, that's my take on the barre scene. The more I talk to other barre devotees, the more I see that convenience and location are the key factors that drive people's choices. A studio that's affordable and easy to get to is pretty key. Obviously, not all studios can be all things to all people, and working out is something you really need to do a few times a week. So that's a huge consideration. But people like different things. I like it when an instructor is all up in my grill; others find that off-putting. Some are looking for social connection; others just want to get in and get out.

I slogged through a lot of hard classes and, even more importantly, drank A LOT to bring you this in-depth report. It was tough, but I live to serve. Bottoms up!