Archive for ragtagalive

” When are you due?”

small__8344048410

 “When are you due?”  The red-haired lady looked at me with kind eyes and smiled as I placed the box of cookies in my grocery cart.  She’d caught me off guard.

“Excuse me?”  I replied.

“The baby.”  She nodded toward my stomach.  “When are you due?”

I responded as quickly as my mind could calculate the months.  “February.”

“Awww, well, congratulations.”  She smiled again and pushed her cart off down the aisle.  I stood there for a moment.  Processing.  Mortified.  It was all I could do to hold back the tears.  I wasn’t pregnant.  But, I was too embarrassed to admit that to a complete stranger.

I stared at the items in my cart – cookies, chips, soda, and more carbs than any one person should be consuming in a week.  I know I must have looked like a lunatic as I removed item after item from my cart, placing them back on the shelves as I reversed my trek through the store.  For the next 20 minutes, I fought the urge to cry while speeding through the produce section, grabbing anything and everything there that I knew I didn’t hate.

When I finally made it to my car, I practically threw the bags into the trunk, collapsed into the driver’s seat, cranked the car, turned the radio up...and lost it.  I sat there and just cried.  I don’t remember how many songs had played before one got my attention.   "Shine" by Anna Nalick.  Three particular lines were loud enough to pierce through my sobbing. 

"I think you need to stop following misery’s lead...Isn't it time you got over how fragile you are?  Everyone is waiting on your supernova."  I suddenly realized I couldn’t keep on thinking I wasn’t strong enough to change.  I needed to take the lead.  There were people in my life who needed me to be strong enough, who were waiting for my supernova.  They were just waiting for me to become the best version of me.  They deserved the best version  – a healthy me. 

But at the very core, I knew I had to do it for myself as much as for my children and my family.  It was time for my transformation...mentally and physically.

I drove home that day, grabbed a trash bag and emptied my cabinets and refrigerator of any junk food or foods that I knew would be a weakness for me.  I replaced it with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grain foods.  I sat down that night and wrote my goals on a piece of printer paper and stuck it on my refrigerator door.   I put post-it notes with encouraging quotes written on them all over my house in places I knew I’d see them: my closet door, the bathroom mirror, my computer screen.  I knew I would have to find ways to keep myself on point and motivated.  The one quote that I knew would hit home every time was the one I wrote on the bottom of every sticky note. “When are you due?”

I found other ways to stay on track too. 

I write it out.  I discuss my weight loss struggles and victories on my blog and Facebook page.  It helps me to stay accountable and maybe in the process I’ll encourage someone else who might be struggling alone the way.

I load up on liquids.  I don’t mean the sugary ones, either.  Water.  Lots of water.  But I know water can get boring.  Believe me, I know.  So I like to shake it up by adding a squeeze of lemon or MIO drops (blueberry lemonade is my favorite).

I keep track.  I write down what I’m eating and how I’m feeling.  Not just to keep up with calories, but in order to see if there are certain foods that make me feel like crap.  I also don’t weigh myself daily.  Once a week is the limit, twice a month would be better.  Our bodies can fluctuate, there’s no reason our moods should too just because the number on the scale does.  Look at the overall progress.

I snack smart.  I keep my favorite healthy snacks easily available.  If I’m craving chocolate, I eat a handful of Dark Cocoa almonds (it’s pure cocoa with no sugar).  They keep the cravings satisfied and keep my friends from finding me hiding in the supply closet with two Hershey bars and a Pepsi.

We all have our challenges to face, our goals to reach, and our own reasons to stay motivated.  You just have to find yours and find a way to remind yourself daily of what they are.  Remind yourself daily that you are strong enough to overcome the challenges and reach your goals.  No matter what those goals are.  So, when are you due?

Life Just Blew You Up – And You’re Still Alive

life just blew you up

When she was just a baby, I had wished she was a bit older so we didn't have to wake up at all hours of the night to feed her. When she was just a toddler, I counted the days the diapers would be a thing of the past.

Every day I seemed to wish my little girl older. And older she got.  Soon she was in full time school and knew it all.

Now, as we stared at each other in the kitchen, her eyes staring up at me with obvious questions, I longed for the days when she was a baby once again.  Gone were the days where the three of us did things as a family. The “first time” she saw a snow fall or rode her bike without help. Those moments would no longer be shared.

“Well, baby. Sometimes mom's and dad's live apart.” I was stumbling to find the words. What was I supposed to do, tell her how I really felt about the soon to be ex?

“Why?,” was her response. At five years old,  they always seem to ask that question, don't they? As she waited for my response, I could notice a tinge of fear in her big, blue eyes. The fear that she was going to lose one or both of us. Her world had been shredded, torn apart, stomped on and turned upside down.

My mouth ran dry with words for a few seconds but my mind continued to search for the answers.  It was so much simpler changing diapers, I thought to myself.

There are times in our lives when we get hit with the worst type of pain and loss. We lose loved ones, suffer through a terrible break-up, get laid off from our jobs or some other horrifying event. You get the idea. You been there at one point or another and probably will feel that pain again. Its just a fact of life. There are no ways to block the emotional trauma but there are ways to ease it and help your mind (and body) dust themselves off a little quicker and get moving again.

  • Its Okay To Cry – Tears are our bodies way of signaling extreme pain, whether its physical or emotional. In fact, your tears are made up of different things, depending on why your “crying!” If your tired or merely yawning to lubricate the eye, its a different composition than when we are hurt. So let it out. It is definitely alright to grieve and grieve hard for a while.
  • Friends Are A Great Remedy – Especially after a major life event for the worse.  Your best friend since the third grade. The buddy who disappeared after college. Anyone who knows you pretty well and is truly your “friend” is going to be there for you during a troubled time. Don't box yourself in and become a hermit. A study done by the American Psychological Association showed that women in the study performed better during stress tests when they had a friend or pet in the room as opposed to being alone. So make a call. They'd love to hear from you! 
  • Seven Steps To The Promised Land – Its going to be a roller coaster ride getting back on your feet. It helps to know where in the grieving process you actually are. Once you find out where your mind “stands” you can work toward the next stage. Shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression and ACCEPTANCE (otherwise known as the Promised Land).  One way to get to there faster is to write down how you feel. It could be stories, poetry or just nonsense, if its how you feel, its HOW YOU FEEL. Then you can look back and see easier what stage your currently residing in. Scientists have long believed “expressive writing” is an excellent way to move through the process.

Life is going to throw grenades at you and some bombs hurt more than others but its some of our darkest days that teach us the most about who are are. In life, when I've just taken a big shot to the chin and I can feel myself reeling from the blow, a saying goes through my mind that helps me right the ship.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” - Rocky Balboa

Fighting colds 101

coldseason

Thinking back, I probably appeared to be cowering in the corner like the guy had the plague or something.  In my defense, he kind of looked as though he might.  His eyes were red with that “I haven’t slept in two days” look, he was sniffling, sneezing and I’m fairly sure he was achy all over.  Yeah, he was a walking Nyquil commercial.  And I was trapped in an elevator with him.  I’m pretty sure I held my breath for five floors.

It seems that no matter where you find yourself, somebody’s spreading the love.  Between colds, the flu, or other infections, avoiding germy people is impossible short of buying yourself a Bubble Boy setup and rolling around town in it.  Strangers on elevators, kids at day care, even those overzealous co-workers who refuse to take sick days—they all pose a risk.  Avoiding them might just be your best defense, but boosting your immunity is just as important.  Since our immune systems naturally tend to weaken as we age, supporting them is essential during cold and flu season.

Try some of these tips to help keep your immune system in fighting condition:

Work out smarter, not harder - According to Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist and flu expert at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City,  workout routines that get you all buffed up in a matter of weeks might boost your confidence, but they actually slow down your immune system.  Studies show that moderate exercise helps immune cells circulate through the bloodstream at a more rapid pace, so bacteria or viruses are less likely to slip through unnoticed.  Aim for about 20 minutes of cardio (walking or running, for instance) plus 15 to 20 minutes of strength training three times a week. You could also try some yoga for an extra boost.

Go to bed earlier - Losing even a little bit of sleep could make you more susceptible to colds. You may relish your downtime before bed—who doesn’t want an hour to read or watch TV after he crazy, hectic day you’ve had? But if you relax at the expense of sleeping, fighting off germs gets harder. As little as 30 to 60 minutes of additional shut-eye per night is enough to boost your immunity, Dr. Mark Moyad, director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center and author of Dr. Moyad's No BS Diet Health Advice: A Step-by-Step Guide to What Works and What's Worthless.Dr. Moyad's No BS Health Advice, says, “Sleep is a restorative process, and its necessary for the immune system to function properly,” he explains. Even naps can help. “When you feel tired don’t fight it,” Dr. Moyad adds. “It’s your body’s way of telling you that you need to recharge.”

Limit sugar and alcohol - Too much alcohol? It could affect infection-fighting immune cells. Life often means career, family, and keeping up the social calendar – all at the same time. This can lead to meals on the go, sugary snacks for energy, and a bit of weekend social drinking.  It also means your immunity can suffer, says Dr. Moyad, “The sugar in just one can of soda can compromise immune system function by 30% for up to three hours,” he explains.  How? It immobilizes immunity cells and damages their ability to surround and destroy bacteria.  He recommends not only limiting drinking but also replacing sweets with high-fiber snacks like oatmeal, whole-wheat muffins, or apples.

Amp up antioxidants - To ramp up your immunity, add more antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies to your diet. Research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that broccoli, cabbage, and kale offer the biggest immune system boost because they contain an important cancer-fighting compound. Another smart choice is matcha, a powdered form of ground-up green tea leaves. One cup of matcha can rival the antioxidant protection found in 10 cups of brewed green tea and up to 100 times the antioxidant power of vitamins C, according to pharmacist Suzy Cohen, RPh, author of Drug Muggers: How to Keep Your Medicine From Stealing the Life Out of You. Dr. Moyad suggests adding a spoonful of honey to your tea for extra protection: “It has incredible antibacterial powers.”

So, instead of walking around all winter wearing a surgical mask for protection, try a few of these immunity boosters and enjoy a little human interaction.  After all, living in a bubble is highly overrated.

 

How to Eat Healthy at Chipotle

cmg_logo_circle

Like so many of us, Steve grew tired of the fast food scene. He didn't like being unsure of exactly what was in between the buns of his burger, or how many chemicals were used to make it taste the same way every time. He didn't like the way a stomach groans with subtle dissatisfaction after a fast food meal. You know the groan of which we speak. 

Being a chef, he felt like there was room for food that was better for everyone in the equation, from the suppliers of the ingredients to the customers who eat it in their cars. Combining all of these sounds like an impossibility, but he managed to pull it off. 

Steve is Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle. Founded in 1993, Chipotle now has over 1400 locations, and they continue to push his vision of "Food with Integrity." Their 2013 "Scarecrow" campaign went viral, and ruffled the feathers of many of their fast food rivals. 

Chipotle is known for their fresh ingredients at surprisingly fair prices. But is it healthy? Organic, home grown, sans hormones...none of these guarantee that you'll be slimmer or live longer for eating them, though you certainly stand a better shot with these types of foods. 

We poured through the Chipotle menu to find the best, healthiest items that match up with our preference: the Mediterranean Diet. This diet emphasizes olive oil, fruit, veggies, nuts, whole grains, beans and fish, with other meats and processed foods deemphasized or forbidden altogether. 

Next time you roll into a Chipotle, try these dishes for an even healthier experience: 

Burrito Bowl/ chicken or pork - This is everything you love in a burrito, just minus the high-calorie flour tortilla. Guacamole, lettuce, black beans...so good. Skip the rice and cheese if you really want to stick close to the Mediterranean Diet. 

Crispy Tacos- While the corn shells are a bit iffy, everything else is good. 

Guacamole - All that cheese you skipped out on is replaced in flavor by a bit of guacamole. Chipotle makes theirs with simple avocado, salt, jalapenos,cilantro, lime and diced onions. It isn't low cal, but avocado and the other fresh ingredients make up for it with other health benefits. 

Beware of: Really, they've done a great job of limiting their menu, so there isn't a ton to avoid. The flour tortillas and chips are really our primary threats, and they're both very easy to avoid. 

Hey, sometimes you have to hop out of the car and grab something quick. 
It happens to us all. Chipotle is one of the places you'll do well to drop in to, because they have a rare combination of fresh ingredients and reasonable prices. 

Chipotle is known to make orders any way the customer wants, so we'd love to hear your ideas and healthy menu secrets. Let us know in the comments!

 

Willpower – Practice makes Discipline

willpower

Lori laid down the spatula and poured a glass of milk.  She told herself that one brownie wouldn't hurt.  Minutes later, an entire row of brownies had not-so-mysteriously vanished.  She hadn’t intended to eat any of them.  After all, how was she going to lose weight eating brownies?  But the sight and smell of them had led her to eat just one, then just a second, third, and fourth – until half of a pan of brownies was MIA.

I’ll be the first to admit, my willpower looks like the Fellowship of the Ring members against an army of Orcs when facing the temptation of chocolate.  But like the Fellowship, it can sometimes overcome.

You see, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.  It’s not always easy, especially with a busy lifestyle.  We have to contend against coffee and dessert dates with friends, family dinner nights and Sunday lunch at Grandma’s house.  If you're like me and have an old-fashioned family that eats big, calorie-loaded meals together all the time, telling Mom or Grandma that you're trying to cut back practically assures that you'll get handed a second helping even bigger than the first!

There are ways to help you reinforce and sustain the willpower you so desperately want to say you have.  Try a few of them for yourself.

  1. If you must eat, drink and be merry - at least make it healthy! OK, so everyone's idea of merriment is not a demanding hike or an hour at the gym, and let's face it: big meals are always going to be a popular way for loved ones to gather together.  So try going to a restaurant that serves healthier choices, or offering to help with dinner so you can offer options that are both more nutritious and perfectly delicious to boot.  It's easier to have the willpower to stay focused when you make sure healthy choices are readily available.
  2. Don’t forget portion control. Even after making the switch to healthier foods, eating colossal amounts of them won't help trim down your waistline.  Be aware of your portions.  Leave the last bite or two unfinished. Never go back for seconds. And if you have an adult beverage, sip it slowly, and limit yourself to one. Believe it or not, you'll still feel full and satisfied without busting the button off your favorite jeans.
  3. Allow yourself a day off and a well-deserved reward!  You somehow managed to make it through the day (or week) defying the forces of darkness.  You've stuck to your guns.  Go you! Now, treat yourself to a relaxing massage or a day out with friends. Do something that will encourage you to face the constant pitfalls again next week without caving.

If you slip now and then, don’t beat yourself up.  We all do.  Just get back at it.  It’s about staying the course and controlling all the typical ways your determination can be worn down, and doing so more often than not.  When you can keep getting back up, keep practicing your resolve, it only makes your discipline, your willpower—and you—stronger.

 

Training Your Brain to Stay on Task

Training Your Brain to Stay on Task

Al's attention span is terrible, and he knows it. Problem is, every time he decides to look up a method of improving his concentration, he gets distracted by something else, and before he realizes it an hour has passed and he's totally forgotten why he opened his laptop in the first place.

Life is a series of distractions for him, and it affects his work, his family, his relationship with his wife, and every other aspect of his life. There's just so much to do and see - stuff on TV, people posting things on Facebook and Twitter, silly pictures on the internet,limited-time free eBooks, breaking news on CNN...wait, what were we talking about again?

Research showed that 2013 is the year the human attention span finally sunk below that of the Goldfish - eight seconds for us, nine seconds for the fish. We're distracted and easily bored, and anything that takes longer than a few minutes is almost painful. Heck, 7% of the population forgets their birthdays. How could we be expected to remember when - HEY, MY PHONE JUST BEEPED AND CHECK OUT THIS CAT PICTURE!

Chances are, you're suffering from a decline in your ability to concentrate and stay on task. This type of cognitive decline begins in your 20s, and is probably made worse by all the fantastic tech tools we have at our disposal.

It's embarrassing, but fret not: our tiny attention spans can be rebuilt. One group of researchers has done just that in a group of elderly folks, using a tool that many blame for our distracted nature - video games.

Dr. Adam Gazzaley at the University of California-San Francisco placed 50 subjects from ages 60-85 in front of a computer game called NeuroRacer. The game requires players to multitask while paying attention to a number of actions, such as driving a car, stopping at a red light, turning, etc. Each participant played the game for 12 hours over the course of a month, with a couple sessions requiring them to sport an electroencephalograph cap that measured brain activity.

The result? The participants showed strong ability to stay on task, with significantly increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the cognitive control center of the body. In other words, distraction is a curable problem for many of us.

While we can't all rush out and play our own copies of NeuroRacer yet, we can train our brains. Try these four easy ideas and see if your ability to focus doesn't improve:

Meditate- One of the many, many benefits of meditation is brain control, and being able to focus your attention in very specific directions. Like any type of training, it requires practice.

Use technology - If you just can't stop yourself from checking email or Facebook, there are tech tools that allow you to block these sites for however long you need to be productive. Check out tinyFilter for Chrome or LeechBlock for Firefox.

Sleep - Not getting enough quality shut-eye can be a major cause for ADHD-like symptoms. Create a routine that allows you at least eight hours of interrupted sleep a night, and consult a physician if your sleep isn't restful.

Don't do it all at once - Put a clock to yourself to stay on task for 25 minutes (also known as the Pomodoro Technique). Then, spend a few minutes moving around - you can even check things on your phone while walking! - then dial back in.

With a little bit of effort, and perhaps eventually a handy video game to play, we can keep ourselves on track and not lose focus on the task at hand, like Al.

Wait, who was Al again?

What do you do to stay on task and eliminate distractions? Sound off in the comments and let us know!

No Pain No Gain – How to tell if your workout is working out

-No_Pain__No_Gain

I hated him.  Maybe hated is a strong word.  Loathed?  Detested?  What word do you use to describe how you feel about a man who pushes you to a point that every fiber of your being is screaming for the end and you’re fairly certain death is imminent?  I’d say hate works pretty well.   

“Give me two more suicide runs.”  He said it calmly and without a single pant.  I was convinced he should be panting as heavily as I was if he was going to insist on pushing me over the edge.  I shot him a steely look.  “No pain, no gain.”  He said as he smiled smugly at me.  Yep.  I hated him.  But I ran two more suicide runs anyway. 

I've been athletic in some way most of my life.  Sports all the way from elementary school through college.  So I’m accustomed to the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality...and the onslaught of sore muscles and Tylenol that follow the day after a tough workout.  What I've learned over the years is that you shouldn't feel this way after every workout. 

Pain isn’t an indicator that you’re whipping your body into shape. It’s not necessary to be so sore you can't raise your arms to wash your hair the next day (yes, it has happened).  However, if you’re actually getting results, then your body should be feeling some physiological changes it isn't used to.

Here are some ways to recognize if your workout is working for you:

  1. The "no pain, no gain" myth – This saying is, to put it simply, bull malarkey.  Granted, there are times when you need to put your body through the ringer a little, but it shouldn't be a gauge as to whether or not your workout is doing its job.  Most exercise should not hurt.  If it does, chances are you have an injury. (Of course, if you've never exercised at all you may think everything hurts – or that you’re dying – but that very likely just your body getting used to exercising.  If you feel fine a little while after you're done, the "hurt" didn't damage anything except possibly your ego.)
  2. Soreness – If you’re wondering how sore you should be, keep this in mind – a little soreness is okay, but you shouldn't be so sore that you can barely roll yourself out of the bed the next morning (yes, sadly that has happened too).  If you’re getting too sore, check the ego at the door and back off a little on your next few workouts.  Don't skip them, that will start the cycle over again, just go easier.  Ease your muscles into it so they can recover and then you'll be reenergized and ready to increase the intensity.  Also remember, soreness should decrease as you progresses. The longer you stick with your workout routine, the more used to it your body becomes.
  3. Energy level and appetite – Don’t freak out when you find yourself wanting to eat everything on the menu at Luigi’s when you first start working out.  It won't last long. You are consistently hungry because you've changed your diet and started working out.  It’s possible you will even feel rather tired for a week or two.  It won’t take your body long to adjust and you’ll have more energy than you’ll know what to do with.  Okay, you've probably already got a list waiting of what to do with the energy, so hang in there.
  4. Don’t sweat it – Seriously, how much you sweat is no indication of how well your workout went. Like pain, some people think if they didn't sweat they didn't get anything from their workout. Not necessarily true.  While sweating is healthy and if you never sweat at all then you probably aren't exercising hard enough, you don't always need to be dripping wet when you’re done. An example would be resistance training.  If you’re going light on the weight, you may not necessarily sweat much, but that doesn't mean you aren't getting benefits.  Keep at it.

Keep in mind, everybody is different and there are no set in stone rules about how you should feel all of the time and no two people are going to respond the same physically.  You have to learn how your body reacts, and – don’t get discouraged – it could take some time.  Concentrate on really listening to your body.  And remember, after a break-in period, you should start to feel good and have more energy!  If this isn't the case, ask your trainer – even if you hate him with a passion the first week or so – because isn't feeling better why you’re working out in the first place?

 

Meditation and the Brain: What Happens

meditationandthebrain2

It started when the girl was nine. She would go to a quiet place, sit in
silence and slowly push the muck and chaos of her world out of her mind.
No more bullies, demanding parents, loud classrooms, or anything else
that comes with the tough life of the elementary-age schoolgirl. Just
her; absorbing stillness, basking in tranquility.

Meditation is so nice, even nine year-olds get it, right?

This particular youngster was Lena Dunham, popular actress and creator
of the HBO show "Girls." Dunham told a crowd at an NYC benefit that she
thought any busy lady could benefit from the practice of meditation.

"It gathers me up for the day and makes me feel organized and happy and
capable of facing the challenges of the world, both internal and
external," she told the audience.

We talk a lot about meditation on this blog. We've even created a
tutorial on how to get started. The proven benefits are just innumerable, and the only cost is your time.

But what really happens when you meditate?

First, your brain calms down and stops trying to keep up with every
little thing around you. Scientific studies have shown a decrease in
beta waves - or brain waves, if you will - even after just a few minutes
of meditation. Literally, your brain just stops caring about irrelevant
things.

Imagine your brain as a busy downtown during a workday. Lots of moving
parts and things rushing to and fro. Then you begin meditating, and the
frontal lobe, where you're emotions and problem-solving skills come
from, goes into sleep mode, as does your parietal lobe (home of
sense-related stimuli.)

Then, your anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex
fire up. The former regulates your worry, the latter risk and fear.

It's the equivalent of someone kicking out all the crowds and putting up
barricades for you and you alone to relax in the park. If your brain is
still downtown, meditation takes it from a busy weekday to a cool,
gentle Sunday morning.

In other words, meditation isn't just a bunch of mumbo jumbo - it's a
process that causes very real, and very beneficial chemical changes in
the brain that reverberate through the rest of the body. You'll feel
better, worry less, be more inspired, focus more and have a sharper
memory to recall it all - and that's just in the brain.

Your kids may not get into it like you want them to (timeout, anyone?)
or like Lena Dunham did, but you can start today. For those of you who
have tried meditation, what benefits did you see? Let us know in the
comments!

A Taste of the Holiday Spirits

Get_in_the_Holiday_Spirits

I meandered past the table filled with peanut butter balls, pecan fudge, and a dozen other diabetic comas waiting to happen.  I was on a mission.  As I strolled across the room, my mind was calculating the lesser of the evils awaiting me.  Eggnog, spiced apple cider, hot chocolate, and of course my mother’s traditional holiday punch.  Yes, I had my sights set on the beverage table on the other side of the room.  Before I could get there, however, crazy Uncle Joe stepped in the way.  Every family has one – a crazy uncle.  He still dresses in a pleather suit (that’s right...pleather with a capital P) that wasn't even cool in 1981 when he bought it, and he’s convinced Foreigner will be having a reunion tour, soon.  He’s also determined to tell me all about his new girlfriend, Babs.   

By the time Uncle Joe was finally distracted from detaining me, I couldn't care less about the calories.  I was heading straight for the brandy that I knew was hidden in the cabinet above the refrigerator.  With two more hours of family time ahead of me, my spiced apple cider was going to need a little more spicing up.

Who doesn't enjoy a good cocktail during the holidays? Okay, spending two days straight with your extended family might have a little something to do with it, but aside from that, nearly everyone likes to let loose a bit at this time of year.  Between office holiday parties, various holiday festivities, and gathering with friends and family, there's no shortage of occasions to do so.

Unfortunately, most holiday cocktails are a double dose of cheer.  Too many calories and too much fat.  Eggnog itself, the (un)official cocktail of the holiday season, has 343 calories and 19 grams of fat in just one cup!  It doesn't take much to increase your waistline along with your holiday cheer.

So how can you enjoy the holiday spirits without having to hide beneath baggy shirts until summer? Here are a few drink ideas that are lower in fat, calories, and sugar than their originals.

Pumpkin Pie Martini.  Yes! It IS as good as it sounds. There are many pumpkin liqueurs on the market, which are convenient, but add a ton of calories. By using the actual squash, you get the flavor without the calories and, believe it or not, you even get a little fiber in your drink.

  • 6 oz. vanilla-flavored vodka
  • 6 oz. canned unsweetened pumpkin
  • 4 oz. fat-free condensed milk
  • 4 oz. unsweetened almond milk (or fat-free milk)
  • 4 Tbsp. pumpkin pie seasoning
  • Ice cubes
  • 6 crushed reduced-fat vanilla wafers

Pour the vodka in a bowl with the pumpkin and stir until pumpkin has dissolved. Stir in condensed milk and almond milk. Add seasoning and stir well. Dip rims of glasses in crushed vanilla wafers. Pour liquid over ice into glass and enjoy. Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories

Protein

Fiber

Carbs

Fat Total

Saturated Fat

105

1 g

2 g

6 g

< 1 g

< 1 g

 

Gingerbread Toddy. When it’s cold outside, a hot beverage can warm you up faster than a Snuggie®. This hot toddy will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside and make you think you’re eating gingerbread cookies in the process.  Win win.

    • 1 oz. brandy
    • 1 oz. gingerbread liqueur
    • Juice from 1 lemon wedge
    • 8 oz. hot water
    • 1 cinnamon stick

Pour first four ingredients into a preheated mug in the order listed. Garnish with a cinnamon stick as a stirrer. Makes 1 serving.

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories

Protein

Fiber

Carbs

Fat Total

Saturated Fat

155

< 1 g

< 1 g

11 g

< 1 g

< 1 g

 

Holiday Hot Chocolate.  Anybody can buy no-sugar-added hot chocolate in packages and do this the easy way. But why be a slacker?  Besides, your house will smell amazing and your friends will be impressed, shocked, but impressed.

    • 4 cups evaporated fat-free milk
    • 1 cup fat-free milk
    • 1/2 cup baking chocolate
    • 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup sugar (or use 1/3 cup agave)
    • 6 oz. Frangelico® liqueur
    • 6 miniature candy canes

Combine evaporated milk, fat-free milk, chocolate, vanilla, and sugar in medium saucepan and heat on stove over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in Frangelico. Pour into mugs and garnish each with a small candy cane. Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories

Protein

Fiber

Carbs

Fat Total

Saturated Fat

340

16 g

2 g

45 g

6 g

3 g

 

So, have your "cup o’ cheer" this holiday season, and enjoy it without having to spend all of January wearing that baggy sweater your Aunt Jane bought you because she’s convinced you’re three sizes bigger than you are.  Happy Holidays!

 

The Weight of Stress

The_Weight_of_Stress

The psychologist walked around the room holding a glass of water.  When she raised the glass, everyone expected they'd be asked the "half empty or half full" question. She didn’t.  Instead, with a smile on her face, she asked: "How heavy is this glass of water?"

After a moment of adjusting to the unexpected questions, answers rang out ranging from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She smiled again. "The weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of this glass isn’t going to change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."

She continued, "The stresses and worries in life are like this glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything."

We all hold on to stress.  It’s become a way of life.  Short of winning the lottery and buying a private island somewhere, our best option in letting go of stress is to be in control of our response to it.  Since we have little control over what happens to us, our best bet is to train ourselves to respond to stressful circumstances without triggering the stress response every time we face it.  Here are a few things to help build a more stress-resilient body.

Rest - The best way to quiet the body-mind’s stress response, and to support the recovery process, is to rest.  This can include meditative practices, deep breathing, exercising early in the day, and getting adequate sleep.

Nutrition - A well-fed body is a resilient one and better prepared to handle stress and to recover from hormonal floods.  Keeping sugar and flour to a minimum while eating plenty of healthy fats and good protein (grass-fed meats, fish, legumes, nuts) will help keep blood sugar on an even keel.  The Mediterranean diet is a good choice for this, it includes plenty of legumes, greens and fish and promotes a proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Exercise - We all need some kind of physical activity to stay stress-resilient, whether it’s walking, biking, yoga or a game of tennis.  Exercise generates mood elevators (endorphins and serotonin) and breaks down cortisol in the bloodstream.

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. As soon as you possibly can, put all your burdens down. Don't carry them through the evening and into the night. That glass is going to get heavy...fast!  Put it down! 

For more on stress and how it affects us, check out this month’s newsletter by the our Rag Tag Research Geeks.