No Equipment Necessary: No Excuses

Bodyweight-ExercisesLately I have observed that one of the biggest excuses that people have to not work out is that either they have no time or money to go to the gym. They forget that they can exercise while brushing their teeth or even on a work break, and that an intense workout can easily be done at home – with no equipment!

Although I’m a huge fan of working out on my yoga mat, exercise ball, a chair and frequently use free weights and a chin-up bar (when not pregnant), more than half of my routines typically require no or minimal equipment. Pushups, planks, lunges, crunches, leg lifts, squats, most yoga positions and many other bodyweight exercises are actually done best without extra equipment to slow you down or “help” you balance. Such exercises force you to concentrate on your form and use your core to balance, resulting in an additional calorie burn and belly toning.

Bodyweight exercises, also called calisthenics, have been used as strength training by athletes for centuries. Demonstrating just how ancient such exercises are, the word “calisthenics” is derived from the greek root words kallos and sthenos, meaning beauty and strength, respectively.

Also, bodyweight exercises are easy to modify to match anyone’s fitness level, which makes them ideal for someone who wants to challenge and push themselves while observing progress regularly. For example, when I first tried P90X, which includes many bodyweight exercises, I could barely do 5 to 10 pushups, and I was easily doing 40 after the initial 90 days. Seeing such progress is incredibly motivational and has helped me push on to another level repeatedly.

I truly hope that nobody who wants to be healthy and fit stops themselves with an excuse as weak as a lack of access to the gym. A gym can be motivational and convenient for some, but it’s simply an accessory for a workout. As my husband Kevin said earlier “gyms are a form of exercise materialism”; just like you don’t need fancy clothes to workout, you don’t really need gym equipment to complete an intense routine.

Food Inc.: Movie Review

Food_incFood Inc. shows various scenes from across the food supply chain, demonstrating the need for corporations to reform. The movie concludes that consumer choices at the end of the supply chain are the only factor that will compel any positive changes.

Food Inc. opened my eyes to how much food production has changed in the past few decades. Not only have farm animals gone from growing in green pastures to filthy, packed stalls, but their lives have been shortened, and their handlers’ jobs have become increasingly dangerous. Additionally, grains like corn and soy are now genetically modified to grow more quickly, and are subsidized so that they can feed animals, humans and supply raw materials for oil refining and other industries.

The movie documents how fast food and chain restaurants became increasingly popular since the late 1950’s, which resulted in quickly escalating demand for uniform cuts of meat that would taste and look the same to consumers nationwide, even if they weren’t. It has been the primary motivator for me to avoid fast food because, in turn, this led to the industrialization of farming animals.

Animal farming industrialization includes scientific advances to stimulate growth hormones to assembly lines for processing. As a result, animal and worker health and safety are compromised, and mega-sized processing facilities also boost the likelihood of cross-contamination, which means that our health and safety is secondary as well.

The second and third parts of the movie are slightly less jaw dropping, but also affect us greatly. They reveal the monopoly that a single grain manufacturer has on seed distribution, and alleged intimidation tactics by food producers to enact legislation that benefits them. Food Inc. led me to investigate grains, especially corn, and also made me conscious of where the produce I buy is sourced from.

Food Inc. finalized my resolution to avidly avoid fast food restaurants – for my personal health and so that I don’t support the system that led to these food manufacturing behemoths. I also have a better understanding of why local farmers cannot compete against such corporations based on price, and why their products are probably worth paying more for – especially for meat and dairy products. It made me question food labels, like organic, and also led me to increasingly follow news about food safety recalls and regulations.

The Real Skinny: Book review

If you want to identify exactly when and why your bad health habits creep up, and how you can work through them, then The Real Skinny is written for you.  It’s not just a weight-loss solution, but also offers a strategy to work through your deeply rooted personal issues to develop sustainable healthy habits.

the real skinny

As promised on its cover, The Real Skinny directly addresses 101 unhealthy habits, and provides immediate strategies or solutions to develop healthy habits in their place. It addresses many of the dietary and fitness problems I faced a few years ago.

The book starts out addressing many of the excuses that I used give for being overweight. For example, it discusses blaming your metabolism and genetics for excess weight. Fat habit #2 is: I have such a slow metabolism. I hardly eat anything but just can’t lose weight. The book explains how people who have excess fat actually have a faster metabolism because their body needs more energy to sustain itself. This is something I didn’t figure out until I watched The Weight of the Nation documentary series last year.

Amongst the myriad of tips and tricks, the book also addresses important issues that people with much more serious health problems, such as depression or diabetes, must work through. In addition to helping identify and avoid unhealthy habits, the book provides a meal plan for weight loss, and lots of yummy-looking recipes in the back.

This book would have been a great place for me to start developing healthy habits years ago. Three years ago, I blindly began scrutinizing my lifestyle with minimal knowledge and many misconceptions about what was healthy. The Real Skinny provides a solid strategy and knowledge base that anyone can use to begin developing healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

What’s this move? Confusion about exercise names

push ups

push upsWhen trying new workouts, exercise nomenclature gets confusing. A trainer could ask you to do narrow grip, close grip, military, chaturanga or tricep pushups and you would probably execute a similar movement for each. Learning a bunch of new exercise names for the same exercises can be frustrating, especially because you’re probably trying to adjust your body to a new type of workout as well.

However, this is why you should keep going! Executing new movements helps your body build flexibility and muscle by focusing on different areas of your physique. Forcing yourself to slow down and pay attention to what is going on in the class can also help you to improve your form.

An example is the variety of names for similar movements in resistance training, which a recent study found significantly varied between certified instructors. In this single discipline each trainer’s vocabulary was different for a set of certain exercises. The study proposed that standards could be developed to better define movements.[1] Until then, we’ll all have to do our best to keep up and know that there’s a learning curve for our body and our brain whenever we try a new discipline or go to a different trainer’s class.

I find it illuminating to know that many teachers are just as frustrated by the lack of standardized names for everything as us students are. The diversity of terms has developed throughout time like different dialects., many people devote themselves to select disciplines of exercise and do not try other workouts. There has been isolation within disciplines even; for example many yogis choose to commit their practice to one type of yoga, whether it’s ashtanga, bikram or kundalini yoga. As a result, when instructors introduce new movements to their classes, they aren’t necessarily aware of a prior name for any particular exercise.

Letting a trainer know that you’re new to a discipline and don’t know the terms for Pilates exercises, for example, should also help remind them to break down movements into simpler, easy to follow instructions. That way you can focus on the physical aspect of the workout and forget the frustration of interpreting new terminology on the fly throughout an hour-long class!

Guest Post: Why I am a vegetarian

twainblushquoteSometimes it occurs to me that the people around me still eat chickens, cows and pigs. And it weirds me out. Really? People still eat meat?

Who do I think I am, right? And how did I get into this ivory tower, anyway?

I took an Environmental Science 101 course my freshman year of college. In our textbook, there was a paragraph breaking down the amount of acreage needed to raise livestock compared with growing vegetables, and the amount of people that are fed by each. That to feed the same number of people, you would need, say, 10 acres for livestock to roam on and another 10 acres required to grow food to feed to the livestock, versus the 10 acres required to grow food to feed directly to us humans.

So I made a logical decision to do less harm to the environment, and to spread the food wealth a little to give poorer nations a better chance to not starve. As with most conservation-minded initiatives, vegetarianism is as much a humanitarian endeavor as it is an environmental one.

The reasons I remain vegetarian have expanded since I made this commitment. A plant-based diet is healthy, for one thing. I’m not here to explain the ins and outs of iron or B12; you have other sources like this blog for that (but protein is literally in everything – ask anyone with a kidney disorder and they’ll tell you how hard it is to avoid protein). And hey, look at me! I don’t take vitamins yet I haven’t been sick in over a year and, most importantly, I have a lot of energy. I’m a normal, functioning human being even though I haven’t eaten meat in 13 years.

Let’s get real now. What makes me sad when I realize that the people around me are eating actual limbs of actual animals is that I know that most of them have animals at home. Or they knew animals as kids. And yet the gap is so vast in people’s minds – the gap between the animals we love and the animals we eat.

I know, I know – we’re at the top of the food chain! We can do whatever we want! We have dominion! Meat is delicious! But with freedom comes responsibility, right? Man is separate from animals, but what separates us? It’s our critical thinking and self-control. And it’s our morality; we have the ability to think about whether what we are doing is ethical. Our greatest quest as a species should not be our dominion over this planet, but our stewardship of it.

Most people have seen a cat get scared when the garbage truck rolls by, or a dog whimper in pain when its tale is accidentally stepped on. And yet they can’t superimpose those same qualities – wit, loyalty, fear, pain – onto a cow or a pig. Or they do, but they would rather eat bacon anyway. We have the self-control to do what we want, not just what we feel like. Our bodies have the ability to operate on either an omnivorous or an herbivorous diet. With these choices, with these abilities – why would we choose to eat animals when we can choose not to?

LA Marathon: Motivation for a Triathlon

LAMarathonlogoThis past weekend I watched the LA Marathon – first on TV and then in person by the finish line in Santa Monica. Seeing athletes complete the marathon, I noticed that most did not look as exhausted as I had expected them to look. I was watching the elite runners finishing first, but most of them had just run the course in a time to set new personal records. Why then didn’t they look spent?

I realized that training had well prepared these athletes for the marathon distance. I could also see the joy on many of their faces because they were doing something they love, and achieving their goals in crossing the finish line. It was incredibly motivational. So much so in fact that I have decided to compete in a race for the first time since high school.

I’m planning to do a sprint triathlon in about three months. The distances for the triathlon are about half a mile of swimming, 16 miles of biking and a 3.4 mile run. While I am confident that I could even now do all of these three events individually, the combination will be a challenge.

Planning out and maintaining a triathlon training schedule is now a fitness priority. I may not post daily blog entries when my training intensity peaks about a month before the event, but I definitely will write about my successes and challenges throughout the process.  For this I’m starting a new category, “triathlon challenge”, in which I will file this and all other related entries.

Also, I will be swimming and biking regularly now, and occasionally trying to test out my running abilities (don’t want to strain my knees!) If anyone has competitive experience in any of these disciplines, especially if you know about intervals and tapering, please let me know! I’d love to have your input as I develop my own regimen in the coming weeks.

Thanks in advance for your support!


The Irony of Birthday Cake

birthday cake

While searching for an appropriate birthday card the other day, I had trouble finding one without birthday cake, cupcake or another food reference in or on it. I didn’t want to buy a food-related birthday card because it was for a co-worker that’s health-conscious. As I searched the card aisle, I realized that most people don’t even think twice about having cake for a birthday. I sure didn’t used to. In fact, I even ordered a cake for my wedding anniversary, a few months after having started P90X! At that point I knew how bad it was to eat cake, but it just seemed like cake was the appropriate way to celebrate.

The irony didn’t dawn on me until that day in the card aisle. Cake is made out of highly caloric and difficult to digest ingredients, primarily sugar and processed flour. Yet we eat it to celebrate milestones and achievements in our lives, instead of celebrating with healthy foods, like fresh organic vegetables and free-range organic-fed poultry, for example.

Why do we celebrate with birthday cake?

I actually could not find a reliable source that fully explained how cake became a celebratory tradition. However, based on the historical scarcity of sugar and flour, it makes sense to me that people who could afford a cake had it to celebrate their good fortune. Eventually, as these ingredients became more popular, everyone wanted to appear privileged and adopted this same tradition. Nowadays we probably eat more sugar in a few weeks than peasants in the middle ages did in during the course of an entire year.

Instead of cake, I might have a birthday salad this year!

Motivation from the Greats: Roger Federer

roger federer

roger federer I recently read an interview with Roger Federer, one of the athletes I respect the most both on and off the court. He mentioned that “the more famous you become, the more great everything seems when things goes well, and the worse they seem when things don’t go so well.” This reminded me of people’s struggles and successes with fitness and health.

Once you get going with fitness, it becomes easier to stay on track. Habits form within weeks and, shortly thereafter, physical changes become increasingly apparent. The endorphins from exercising make you want to continue just to feel good. Your body also becomes stronger, so it’s easier to do workouts because they are less painful and you are more flexible. It’s like a snowball rolling downhill that continues to gain momentum!

It’s also important, however, to stay in-check with reality. Federer mentioned in this interview that people were impressed with his average matches, and blew out of proportion the amazingness of his good matches. Since he didn’t give in to the praise and stick to impressing people, Federer was able to become and remain the world’s tennis number one for years. It is extremely important to stay focused on your game, your goals and not let other people decide when you’ve accomplished the task at hand.

This applies in many aspects of life, apart from fitness. The harder you work, the harder it is to stop and let it all go. So if you think something will make you truly happy, then it’s worth making it a priority just to see what happens after a few weeks. Who knows, months or years may pass and you may grow and increasingly enjoy the experience. Once you enjoy doing something and want to become great at doing it, don’t let others tell you how far to go. Listen to your instincts and what you believe you can truly accomplish, even if nobody has ever done it before!

Here’s the interview that inspired me to write this post. It exemplifies Federer’s great sportsmanship and his realist outlook on life, which is refreshing and truly respectable.–ten.html

Solicit Support

It's all about you

It's all about you

A great way to get motivated is to have positive support from people in your daily life. If the people you’re closest to know your goals to be healthy and happy, they should encourage you and help you stay on track. Choose to tell a few positive people who will not criticize or dismiss your goals but will help you achieve them.

I’m not encouraging people to share everything through social media, quite the opposite!  Having a core, small group of supporters is essential to success. However, if you let everyone know what your plans are then you’re putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to live up to others’ expectations. This is a stress you can definitely avoid, especially at first!

Even if you’re not sharing everything with people, once you begin making positive progress you won’t hear the end of it! The beauty of living a healthy lifestyle is that it makes you look great. These days, people consistently complement my husband and me, especially friends and family that we don’t see on a regular basis, because they see huge changes when we do meet. It took a couple months before we were noticeably different, and it’s hard explaining to people that it’s not really what they see that matters, rather it’s how we feel and our long-term health. But it is motivational to hear that we’re looking good, even if we’re not doing it for the complements!

As a bonus, sharing your accomplishments and how you succeed will also inspire others, especially to those close to you. Sometimes, those who help support you will even be motivated to join in and start up some healthy habits themselves, and then you can support their decisions. Just remember that you cannot change others, you can only change yourself. And through changing yourself, you change your own reality.

Review: The Weight of the Nation, an HBO documentary


The Weight of the Nation covers a wide swathe of issues; it discusses environmental factors like the inexpensive junk food that dazzles us at every corner to the lack of playgrounds, particularly in poor neighborhoods. It gives examples of people on both sides of the street – from the experts that are striving to understand obesity to everyday Americans struggling to make a positive change in their lives.

This four-part HBO documentary was one of the first educational videos I watched when I began my healthy lifestyle. The show is available for free online and it’s part of a greater campaign to curb the obesity epidemic. I have recommended the show to a few of my friends, and those who watched it agree that it is incredibly motivational.

The documentary itself is split into four parts:  the scope of the obesity epidemic, the choices people make, how children in particular are affected by our societal norms and the challenges we all face in overcoming this issue.  Some parts were hard to swallow, not only when they show fatty organs that have massive muscle walls and fat build-ups, but also because the people they interview about their obesity-related health problems are so similar to many of my own friends and family.

The takeaway for me came during the second part; maintaining your health requires consistent work for the long-term. In particular, they cite a study from the National Institute of Health that followed people who are pre-disposed to type 2 diabetes and showed that those who lost some weight and began eating right significantly reduced their chances of developing the disease. They interview a set of identical twins; one of them loses some weight, eats right and stays healthy but the other doesn’t and develops diabetes.  It’s sad to see the results for the twin that develops diabetes, but is truly motivational to staying fit and avoiding such serious health problems. Whether you’re overweight or thin, a fitness expert or if you hardly ever move around, I believe that watching The Weight of the Nation ( can be a step toward living a healthy and happy life.