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: Positivity

christina ross

christina ross

Christina has an incredibly positive and uplifting personality. I could feel her positive energy while shopping in Sur Le Table one day, and sure enough she soon began helping a fellow shopper pick out a juicer. They began talking about her business, PattisseRaw, and her blog, love-fed. At that point I joined in on the conversation and we all exchanged information; I was excited to meet someone who was also living and sharing her healthy lifestyle, but more importantly someone who was incredibly positive.

I recently asked Christina to jot down some notes on what she does daily to stay so positive, and here is the list she made. I am incredibly proud that she references some of the methods I’ve already featured on Fresh Grit!

  • Practice gratitude: Whether I take one minute to acknowledge some of the things that I am grateful for or fifteen minutes it always feels good. It’s an instant pick me up especially when I catch my mind wandering off into the trap of not having enough or not being good enough.
  • Get outside: This is my daily vitamin, Rain or shine I must go outside! I love waking up and first thing going right outside when it’s calm and peaceful before the day gets busy! I’m always in instant appreciation for a bright new day, fresh air provided by the trees, and the beautiful birds that sings songs to me upon waking. Being outside, quiet with nature is a powerfully moving experience. I feel centered, inspired and infinite perhaps because in nature there are no walls, growth is abundant, and anything is possible!
  • Eat a healthy breakfast: I love starting each day with a juice, this helps me set the tone for my day, choosing to treat my mind and body with nutrients that encourage positive growth.
  • Exercise: At the very least I walk daily. Sometimes, I only make room for 15 minutes.  No matter how long or short I have to move to stay positive. I find moving my body helps me release energy that I am holding on to. I also find the moving my body helps fight fatigue, which can sometimes cause irritability, and mood swings. When your feeling blue it may be hard to do so but get to moving, chances are whatever feelings or emotions were weighing you down will have passed right through.
  • Breathe: Much like moving the body, breathing helps me to focus my mind on my breath therefor taking my mind off of distracting thought patterns that tend to interfere with my clarity or positive attitude. Break free from constant mind chatter by taking a few deep breaths and you will notice an instant reset.
  • Be aware of thoughts: By paying attention to my thoughts I am able to correct the ones that are not in alignment with my beliefs. For instance, if a negative thought passes through my mind instead of getting tangled up in it and possibly depressed by it, I can choose to acknowledge the thought as passing by, but I certainly do not need to feed it. If I don’t feed the negative thought it will starve and then I can replace the thought with something positive.
  • Refill my creative heart: When feeling a little less creative or in need of new inspiration I take these feelings as a sign to do something new. Check out an art show, look through cookbooks that I may not have ever considered before, take a different street when I walk. I use boredom or lack of new ideas as a gentle reminder to try something new, to go out and explore. This always helps me refill my creative well!
  • Create something: make time for creativity! Sometimes my creative time is also my mediation time. Just as you might make time for exercise, seeing friends, or eating, make time for creating. We all have great ideas and our ideas deserve some attention too. I find that I always feel fulfilled when I create whether it be a new recipe, painting or planting a new plant in my garden. Creativity is a birth-gift, why not share yours with the world?!
  • Doing kind things for others: Whether it’s buying a tape roll at the post office for the next customer to use or leaving a dessert in someone’s fridge I feel a great sense of joy when I do something for others. A great way to take my mind off of myself is wishing the best for those around me.
  • Walk with a smile and live out loud: I can’t tell you how uplifting it is to meet someone new all because I was smiling, wearing a bright outfit or simply because I said hello! I love walking around my neighborhood and taking a moment to say hi to people, if not with my words then with my smile. It’s amazing how a reciprocated smile can hug me straight in the heart.


coffee beans

coffee beansCoffee is the most commonly brewed beverage in the world. The image above was taken at a coffee plantation in a far off land, and depicts the berries growing on a bush that are later picked, sorted, dried, roasted, ground and then brewed. Along with chocolate gourmet coffee is one of my favorite treats.

Recent research is demonstrating astounding health benefits associated with both the caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee varietals. Most of us have heard of its antioxidant qualities, I have found that most people don’t know what that means.  I also just read that some antioxidants could actually be bad for us.  Also my husband reminds me that coffee can stain the teeth, which is the biggest downside I’ve come across.

One study that has just been published (March 2013) reviewed the recent two decades worth of research and summed it up relatively simply.

“There is a significant impact of coffee on the cardiovascular system, and on the metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids. Contrary to previous beliefs, the various forms of arterial cardiovascular disease, arrhythmia or heart insufficiency seem unaffected by coffee intake. Coffee is associated with a reduction in the incidence of diabetes and liver disease. Protection seems to exist also for Parkinson’s disease among the neurological disorders, while its potential as an osteoporosis risk factor is under debate. Its effect on cancer risk depends on the tissue concerned, although it appears to favor risk reduction. Coffee consumption seems to reduce mortality.” [1]

I also found more recent studies that were published after the above review, which supported some of its findings and furthered others. For example, coffee has been shown to slow down the development of type-two diabetes for women in particular.[2] Another study just found that restricting or eliminating coffee intake during pregnancy had no effect on birthweight. [3]

Decaffeinated coffee was recently shown to decrease hunger by triggering the satiety hormone PYY, while caffeinated coffee had varied effects depending on the person.[4] So if you’re trying to stay on a low-calorie diet and avoiding hunger, decaf may be your best friend.

A lot of these studies were only robust (yes that’s a purposeful pun) for people that drank more than three or four cups a day.[5][6] But that is still much more coffee than I can handle in one day! I know caffeine will keep me up late if I have more than two cups in the morning, or any at all after noon. So I’ll just sip away slowly and enjoy my morning joe all the more from here on out.

Myths about Granola


Granola has a great, healthful reputation. However, I’ve been stunned by the nutrition labels on granola products that I have picked up at the store, and I haven’t bought any in over a year. I’ve decided to boil down why I reach for granola bars (the myths), and also why they haven’t crept into my diet (backed by research of course).

Myth #1: Granola is healthy

More than 95% of store-bought granola bars and cereals contain caloric sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup or sugar [1] and they are also often high in saturated fat. If you love granola, you can try this homemade version from Marvelous Girl instead – and always make sure to buy unsweetened dried fruits!

Granola bars have a higher glycemic load than white bread [2]! To substitute you could choose to eat whole-grain oat cereal or porridge, which have been found to have a much lower glycemic load and are great for your gut.[3]

Something else to keep in mind about granola bars is that they can lead to cavities. Granola bars that are soft and moist are three times more likely to lead to cavity formation than crispier and dryer alternatives.[4]

Myth #2: Granola products are environmentally friendly

Most granola bars and cereals are highly processed, and the ingredients are sourced from a diverse range of ecosystems and transported from around the world to reach our supermarkets. Additionally, granola products are often wrapped in single-serving packs. While this may help keep on track portion-wise, it creates a lot of excess packaging waste that is often composed mostly of plastics that cannot be recycled and end up clogging landfills.

Granola, just like cucumbers, does not live up to the healthy, green image it conjures. It’s often sugary, overly-processed, cavity-creating and wastefully packaged. Such research just furthers the fact that we all need to carefully read the official nutrition labels on every food we buy, instead of buying into myths manifested by decades of marketing.

Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body: Book review


If you are frustrated whenever you get in the pool to swim laps because it doesn’t feel like you’re getting far or improving, this is a great book to read and apply. It’s particularly great if you want to swim but have never enjoyed it, or enjoy it but are frustrated by your performance. Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body is all about working with water to balance and propel yourself forward calmly and efficiently.

I took swimming in college because it was offered and I wasn’t going to have to pay extra for it. I didn’t need the credits, but I wanted to get in the habit of going to the pool twice a week. I didn’t read the course description upon registration, and was surprised when we were required to buy this book as part of the class. Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body is a guide to “swimming better than you ever imagined.” This is the promise on the cover and I thought it was cheesy – it turned out to be true.

That swim class taught me more about balance and focus than any other class I had to take in college. The lessons I learned based on its principals did not just apply to time spent in the pool, but throughout my life to this day. It deepened my meditation practice, and showed me how to prioritize things logically, otherwise I would drown.

On my way to the final for this swim class I was delayed due to traffic. This combined with the very little sleep I had been getting throughout finals week, and I began to hyperventilate as I walked from the parking lot to the pool. The stress was too much for my body and I was forced to sit down and calm my mind. I had just been reading this book and thinking about the fundamentals of balance and patience, and continuous improvement; Remembering how far I had come that semester, and that even if I did fail that final it was due to circumstances beyond my control, I could continue on into the gym and keep on swimming.

This book shows you how to learn four basic strokes on your own: breaststroke, freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. The author, Terry Laughlin, engagingly shares how he has been continuously improving his swim practice well into middle age and beyond. He also has a series of instructional videos and has written other books about total immersion, which is the key to underwater efficiency and is appropriately the name of his company.


A Healthy Goal


Garfield is known for his eat, sleep, and eat again schedule, which is depicted with the funniest of intentions. Yet the cartoon drives home the fact that many of us don’t realize how our thinking directly affects how much of life we experience. Garfield doesn’t have goals and sleeps away his existence, and likewise, many of us let our bodies go to waste by living an unhealthy lifestyle.

The goals we make either make or break our habits of eating right and exercising.

Many dieters restrict themselves dangerously for a limited amount of time to reach a set goal for an occasion, and then return to past habits afterward. If we think that we are working out and restricting what we eat to lose weight, we tend to start gaining weight once we attain our goal. Instead, it’s important to implement eating habits that we can sustain for the rest of our lives. Thus we can be ready for any event life throws our way, even if it wasn’t planned!

Similarly, people go through phases of working out. Gym memberships and personal trainer services experience a post-holiday spike each year and business slows from there on out.[1] This post-holiday spike illustrates the ambitious New Year’s resolutions that people make, and that for most people this proves unsustainable. The key to being healthy is staying consistent, and being physically active every single day.

Short-term health goals are great to kick-start a habit, but long-term health should be the most important focus. By focusing on “long-term health” as my fitness and food goal I’ve been able to let go of shifts on the scale, or the lack thereof. This was especially important when I didn’t see results for a while when I first began eating right and exercising. It’s also incredibly important now that I’m not trying to put on muscle or lose weight. Instead, my short-term goal is training to finish a triathlon, but its underlying cause is to keep me moving and eating right so that I’m healthy and happy.

Eating Out at Restaurants

food_services_highway_signs_collection_poster-r8546094f738a4b77a66606d5968a2bbc_i13_400While cooking your own meals is definitely the easiest way to eat healthy, making a few simple choices when eating out at restaurants can also ensure that you are guilt-free afterward.

I eat out a couple times a week, and make sure that wherever I go either offers salads or other options that I’m willing to eat. If I’m planning ahead of time, I simply check menus online… and if I’m walking around then I just ask to see a menu before I’m seated. I realize that I’m lucky that I now live in a very health-oriented city, yet even when traveling it has become increasingly easy to make healthy eating choices by staying conscious of my decisions from the moment I walk into an eatery to when they ask if I want dessert (don’t even consider it!) The other thing I avoid at all costs is fast food; even the salads are from frozen ingredients and often include a ton of processed, high sodium ingredients. I generally opt to go for a pre-made supermarket or convenience store salad as a last resort, they’re usually more fresh and nutritious than from a fast food chain.

A lot of the time, something that is not considered healthy catches my eye when I peruse a menu. For example, this weekend a bagel with lox was tempting me at lunch one day. Bagels contain lots of processed grains and also come with incredibly fatty cream cheese to slather on, so I simply substituted a salad for the bagel when ordering. Then I had a relatively healthy, balanced meal that was flavorful and satisfying.

I wish I had taken a picture of the pretty pink salmon with round white onion and red tomato slices and bright green basil and capers on top, along with the vibrantly dark green salad that had heirloom tomatoes and other yummy veggies sprinkled throughout it! But I was too busy savoring my meal and enjoying the company of my husband.

In general, whatever diet I’m on when I eat at home I also stick to in a restaurant. For example, if I am not drinking alcohol or limiting myself to one drink at home, then I do the same when eating out. If I’m avoiding processed foods, I’ll try to do so no matter what. I’ve never really enjoyed salad dressing, so ordering salads without it is a habit that I didn’t need to learn when I started eating healthy, but it’s important to note that those dressings are generally extremely caloric and full of saturated fats.

Finally, watching portion sizes becomes more challenging at restaurants, which often serve food on gigantic plates that make big meals look small. But eating the right amount becomes increasingly easy, especially because when you need to leave half of the meal for the next day you can keep in mind that you get to enjoy it twice!

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?

Plants: Quintessential relaxation

Plants are like art; the greenery of leaves and vibrancy of flowers is gorgeous. Plant structures are superbly diversified and have amazing lines to contemplate; I often wonder how vines can stay upright and reach so far! I look forward to watering plants and pruning leaves; caring for anything living is gratifying.

Indoor plants are an especially important connection to nature in urban environments. Some benefits are that they filter the air for us, turning carbon dioxide to oxygen and even filtering out some of the pollution our society creates.  They are also interesting to observe over time as they grow and change. They go through cycles of growth, flowering and eventually death.

Because I don’t really enjoy that last part, I love having plants that will thrive for years; perennials as opposed to annuals. Yet these tulips I came across on Pinterest look gorgeous and I plan to give this project a try.

tulipMany plants are superbly easy to grow and need to be watered just a few times a month. The first plant I owned died early because I didn’t follow the growing instructions; I didn’t have a spot in our apartment with the right amount of light for it. But I’ve learned since then on how to better care for plants by buying the ones I can properly care for.

Just like with most things, you need to plan ahead to properly take care of a plant. I now seek out staff at a nursery to get advice on which plants will work best for the spot I want to put them in and the frequency with which I’m able to care for them.  Thereby I make sure that I can properly take care of the plants I keep.

Sunlight and water, resources that are available to most of us, are all we need to provide for plants in order for them to flourish in or around our homes, and even in the workplace. Surrounding ourselves with such greenery helps to relax and reduce the stress in our busy lives.