Coming Clean

One woman’s honest quest to clean up her unhealthy life for herself and her family.

Posts Tagged health

Experience Life Magazine

Weather Watcher

My father has always been tuned in to the weather. Every morning, he’d be one of the first ones up, checking the weather reports on the news and reading the paper. Now that he’s retired and an active Facebook user, all of his online friends can also benefit from his re-posts of weather updates.

The worst scenario, he aimed to teach us, was to be caught in the elements unprepared. Never too hot or too cold, and keep your hands, face, and feet protected. My mother, a nurse who spent many years in the burn unit and saw the unfortunate consequences of inadequate winter gear on the appendages, reinforced this sensibility.

Yet, up until 2009 or 2010, I’d say, I didn’t fully absorb this message. If it felt too cold outside, instead of purchasing the right gear, I’d just stay inside to read a magazine or watch TV. Too hot? I’d rather enjoy the air conditioning. I remember one sad summer when I was maybe 12 or 13, and my mother pleaded with me to go outside and help with her garden. Being a tween and it being too hot, I felt, it was best to stay inside, talk on the phone with my friends while watching our favorite shows, and eat Doritos.

No wonder it took me so long to truly enjoy the outdoors. Avoidance is one surefire way to create both fear and unnecessary anxiety.

Curiously, I also married a man who shares my father’s keenness for weather watching. Kyle’s morning report includes road conditions, impending snow, and a discussion on whether or not I should let my car “warm up” before getting on the road. He’ll also give me a rundown of the afternoon report, so I can plan for my commute.

I find it charming from both of these men in my life, but I also wonder why I seemed so indifferent to the weather all these years, especially when I live in a state that has all four seasons (sometimes three-and-a-half, depending on how long the winter lasts). Was nature really that uninteresting?

The more I’ve learned to understand my body, the more I care about my environment. These past few years of working on my weight loss, I’ve started enjoying sunny days — instead of dreading how much I’d sweat, which would surely be a lot (I still sweat, but much less since I dropped the extra weight). When the snow falls, I get excited to snowshoe. Even the rain, which suggests a nice break to read a book or nap, means greener grass and rosier flower petals.

Being more in tune with nature has showed me other perks:

  • I sleep better. I wake up easier. Although I’m still working on my sleeping schedule (the conclusion of March ends Sleep Awareness Month, but my work continues!), I’ve noticed a shift in better-quality sleep when I spend more time outdoors and when I exercise. And try as I might to sleep in on the weekends, I can’t fight the morning sun shining in through my window. The sunrise wakes me up, and I’ve been spending my quiet mornings reading.
  • I understand my own energy levels and needs better. When it’s really hot, I can feel my body move at a snail’s pace. The heat is draining, and I allow for more lounging. If my body needs rest, I respect that. Those images of neighbors on their front porch, drinking ice tea and fanning themselves on hot nights? Completely sensible and necessary.
  • StPaulWinterMarketI have a greater appreciation for farmers and healthy food. Fresh, organic strawberries in the winter in Minnesota can run upwards of $8 (California friends, I know that’s pretty standard). In the summer, I can buy them for $3 or $4, or I can pick them fresh at a nearby orchard. Eating seasonally makes sense, to both my wallet and my taste buds. The St. Paul Farmers’ Market stays open year-round, but in the winter, the farmers are selling mostly meats, root vegetables, apples, and an assortment of wreaths and mini decorative pine trees. (Pictured at right: Me on our visit, January 2012.) few years back, I went with my friend and chatted with a farmer helper from Farm on Wheels. He had just turned 21, but I was shocked at how mature he seemed. He spoke eloquently about his products and their farm practices, and I couldn’t help but think how opposite my 21-year-old self would have been compared to him. He seemed to have an innate value for the importance of hard labor, and showed pride in the rewards his farm reaped. I really admired that trait, and grew a new reverence for farm life. (Read more from one of my favorite farmers here.)

Can a better me come from loving and respecting the environment surrounding me? Most definitely.

 

 

Experience Life Magazine

‘The Biggest Loser’ Finale

Updated Feb. 28, 1:26 p.m. CST: Rachel Frederickson appears on the Today show on Feb. 26 for its “Love Your Selfie” week and tells the host, ““It was absolutely healthy weight loss. [Today] I’m the healthiest, most alive I’ve ever felt.” Video embedded below.

Updated Feb. 12, 10:14 p.m. CST: Rachel Frederickson interviewed for this week’s cover story of People magazine: “Maybe I was a little too enthusiastic in my training to get to the finale,” she said of her three-month pre-finale schedule, which included working out for six hours a day.

New updates Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 11:36 a.m. CST: articles from ThinkProgress.org on body shaming (Feb. 6) and “A Big Reveal Touches a Nerve” from the New York Times (Feb. 7).

Updated Friday, Feb. 7 at 3:45 p.m. CST: Since Tuesday’s finale, several news stories have been released, bloggers have been publishing their commentary, and the trainers and show have released statements. Scroll down for more.

I usually watch The Biggest Loser for the inspirational stories and the moments when contestants realize their demons and overcome them. I’m less interested in some of the tactics the trainers use to get their team members to lose weight. (I got a chance to interview runner-up Hannah Curlee from season 11 when she was in town, and last year I was inspired by winner Danni’s success story.)

But tonight’s reveal has me in a bit of shock. All of the contestants reveals were dramatic, but the winner, Rachel Frederickson, a Minnesota native living and working in Los Angeles as a voice artist, has me in a bit of disbelief. The 24-year-old dropped 155 pounds, weighing in at 105 pounds to win the $250,000.

My first mistake was to look to Twitter, which was in an uproar over her thin frame. So I pulled out our article on TV weight-loss shows to give me some perspective (take a read if you watch these shows regularly).

Did you watch tonight’s finale? What did you think? I’ll post a video when it’s available.

News updates: The L.A. Times posted a commentary here.

Dolvett Quince, who trained Rachel during her time on the show, posted this comment Wednesday evening: BL2014_Dolvett

Trainer Jillian Michaels also took to social media (Feb. 5) and shared her Facebook post on Twitter to speak on behalf of trainer Bob Harper and herself:

BL2014_Jillian

Trainer Bob Harper spoke about Rachel’s reveal in a Feb. 6 taping of The Rachael Ray Show (scheduled to air Feb. 13):

“What people don’t understand is, when the contestants leave to go home…they’re in charge of themselves. So I had not seen her until that night, and so when she walked out, I was just kind of like, whoa. And I’ve been on the show since the beginning.” According to Women’s Health, he also noted: “I was stunned. That would be the word. I mean, we’ve never had a contestant come in at 105 pounds.”

NBC and the show’s production company Shine America issued a joint statement Thursday morning: “We support Rachel and all of The Biggest Loser contestants who have shared their journeys over the past 15 seasons. We remain committed to helping contestants achieve healthy weight loss and live healthier lifestyles, and to inspiring viewers to do the same.”

“Insider sources” from the show’s crew in today’s The Daily Banter post (Feb. 7) say it’s about ratings for the producers.

Former season three contestant Kai Hibbard Tweeted on Feb. 6: “If you watch TBL and think Rachel is the problem as though she weren’t doing exactly as asked of her, you’re clueless. Stop body shaming.”

Several bloggers have chimed in, but a few of the more interesting commentaries:

“Rachel Fredericksen did one thing really well it’s that she unmasked how deep, conflicted and hypocritical our feelings as a society are about weight loss. Sure we talk a good game about body acceptance and health movements and strong is the new skinny or whatever but the truth is we care deeply and personally about weight. Our weight. Friends’ weights. And even strangers on TV’s weights. Whether they were horrified or impressed by her weight loss, everyone cared about Rachel. Because she’d taken us at our word and then took it to it’s most logical – and extreme – conclusion. It was almost as if she looked the camera in the eye and yelled You want me to lose weight? You hate fat people so much?? Well I WILL LOSE ALLLL THE WEIGHT AND YOU WILL LOVE ME.”

“This is what happens when people are put in a place where their worth is judged only on pounds lost and they are punished for gaining weight, even if it might be muscle mass. This is what happens when you tell people to lose weight and all they’ve ever seen is the ‘ideal’ of what women are supposed to be that is pushed on us by media and magazines. This happens every day.”

Lastly, Rachel has been speaking about her experience to the media and stated that her weight loss was natural: In interviews, she said she had been going to “three, maybe four [exercise] classes a day,” and was eating 1,600 calories spread out in five meals each day. Below is the video from her Wednesday interview with the Today show, which avoided the controversy altogether. In her interview with Us Weekly, she said:

“I followed the advice and support of the medical team at The Biggest Loser the entire journey. So it’s been natural, and I’ve enjoyed every part of it. I’m going to continue on that path, maintaining this healthy lifestyle and really just enjoy this new life.”

Tuesday’s finale drew 7.4 million viewers, according to preliminary numbers from Nielsen.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Experience Life Magazine

Inspirational Stories: Kelli Merritt

I don’t like to play favorites, because there are so many great success stories in our magazine, but Kelli Merritt’s is one I’ll always remember. After being diagnosed with MS, Merritt, a massage therapist at Life Time, trained for a 5K. She completed the first annual Commitment Day in two hours and six minutes, with the aid of her walker.

As she told writer Joe Hart: “It was my way of taking hold of my MS. If I could tackle this 5K, I could tackle anything that MS could do to me. I could prove that I may have MS, but it doesn’t have me.”

I met Kelli at this year’s Commitment Day, and was so happy to see her back at it. Then I immediately thought, “Why did I hesitate in signing up for this again?” If Kelli is here, we should all be here! Way to go, Kelli!

Read her story here. If you missed Delane Cleveland’s report from Kelli’s first round of training, check out the video below.

Experience Life Magazine

Celebrating the Harvest

If I’m hungry, really hungry, the last place I go is the grocery store. I always overspend, and often, if I see the sweet treats and salty snacks, they somehow manage to find their way into my cart. Either way, I go overboard and totally off the list.

Tonight I was ravenous, so I called Kyle about dinner, then freaked out about traffic and being hungry without a plan. Once calm, I realized the time: It was nearly 6, and it was Tuesday, so our local farmers’ market would be open until 7. Hooray!

There were still plenty of vegetables out to buy — and even eggs, which usually go quickly once the market opens. I started to load up on kale, baby bok choy, fresh herbs, peppers, a head of cauliflower (and the seller gave me an extra as a bonus), some fresh-baked bread for Kyle, and a bone-in chicken breast.

As you can see from my picture, hunger still played a part in my shopping spree.

At the end of the line, I met and chatted with Paul Schultz of Schultz Farm near Stillwater, Minn., and bought his last basket of strawberries — hand-picked by him earlier than morning. He also sold me on a bunch of grilling onions with his time-tested balsamic vinegar and olive oil recipe (more on that later this week). Read more about Schultz Farm here.

Fresh, healthy abundance! My finds at the Shoreview Farmers' Market.

Fresh, healthy abundance! My finds at the Shoreview Farmers’ Market.

Experience Life Magazine

When All-or-Nothing Doesn’t Quite Work

At lunch, I walked over to our local grocery store with editorial intern Casie Lukes. Even though I had started the UltraSimple detox plan on Sunday Monday, I lamented to her that I picked a bad week to start.

Today is our anniversary and we’re going out to dinner, I told her. I’m allowing myself to have a glass of wine. And what about my birthday on Thursday? If someone just happens to give me a cupcake as a treat, can I really not eat it? (I say, if it’s gluten-free, then yes!)

The fact is, this wasn’t the best week to start a detox. But is there ever really a good time? There will always be dinners out and family parties and work events. And I’m a pro at holding tight to the all-or-nothing mindset: Well, I messed up today, so I’ll start again tomorrow (or on Monday). Today is a wash.

Blame it on the “diet mindset” I’ve had since I was 11 years old. I know it hinders my success elsewhere, too, like my home and work (if I’m going to start this project, I’m committed to finishing it completely, even if that means I work into the wee hours of the night — or as Kyle used to call it, my Sunday Night Cleaning Panic).

Now that I’ve seen success in weight loss with making small changes consistently, I know it can apply elsewhere.

But back to tonight’s dinner. The menu was diverse, and sure, there were a few salads and a side or sautéed vegetables, and there was chicken and fish, but some voice in my head said I would regret not eating what I really wanted. I’d think about it all week. And I know me: When I’ve made a choice that really truly felt like restriction, I’ll sneak food later.

Plus, since I was eating according to the UltraSimple plan all day (a smoothie for breakfast, a big salad for lunch, and green tea in the afternoon), I decided I could make a few several exceptions for dinner. I chose the filet mignon, which came with risotto, and ordered a side of asparagus.

I have no regrets.

The restaurant offers a special for couples celebrating their anniversary, in which they get two glasses of champagne and a dessert (they also offer a bottle of wine, any bottle, during one’s birthday week priced at your age, but let’s not get too crazy!). I had a few bites of the apple crisp, half of the champagne, and felt pretty satisfied with my choices.

I’d much rather eat for pleasure in this life, and sometimes the meals can be rich. As long as I keep my diet balanced overall, load up on the veggies, and defeat the all-or-nothing mindset, I can keep after my goals in a healthy, sustainable way.

Experience Life Magazine

You Good?

The message popped up in my inbox from coach Lauren: All it said was, “You good?” My first thought:

Weeeelllll…

I’ve been struggling lately. After we moved, I was excited to cook more and experiment with new ingredients in the kitchen. I was buying food at a newly discovered farmers’ market and natural-foods grocery store. Kyle and I were grilling often, and I was making hummus from scratch. Even though I hadn’t been exercising in my usual manner, I still managed to walk/run a 5K in late July — and made my time goal of 45 minutes. And I lost another 3 pounds.

But I wasn’t adhering to my usual clean-eating program. I was skipping breakfast during the week (note that intermittent fasting can work really well for some, but usually I find that I overeat at lunch and dinner; read more here). Even when I was good during the day, I started giving up at dinner, opting for Chinese take-out, rice bowls, burgers, and a big, risky splurge for me: cheesy tortellini in a cream sauce. (I bargained with myself, saying I could have it since I asked for extra veggies.) I was allowing myself to drink more alcohol than normal (usually, I only drink one day a week if at all; in the past year, I would have two or three glasses of wine or cocktails each month instead of each week). And my sweet tooth returned, to the point where I was eating chocolate (albeit dark) nearly every night.

I puttered around the house unpacking boxes, but even stopped walking the dog — a shame because we are surrounding by nature and trails in our new neighborhood.

Mostly, I’ve been collapsing on the couch, then heading to bed early. The latter is great; the former, not so much.

Everyone needs a break now and then — in fact, we encourage it at the magazine! — and there’s much research around the necessity of recovery days, getting more sleep, and de-stressing through yoga, meditation, and visualization (which I find to be both relaxing and empowering).

But what happens when you find yourself taking too many recovery days? What balance is right?

That’s definitely a personal question, one that we usually answer with, “Listen to your body.”

So I asked my body, and it told me it’s doing great. It’s feeling tired, perhaps more mentally than physically, but would love to move more. Maybe I could keep it as simple as swinging the kettlebell and jumping rope, two pieces of equipment I already have at home? Why not shorten my route for a walk, taking the loop around our street inside of the 3- or 6-mile paths around the nearby lakes? How about getting a friend or Kyle involved, so we can catch up on our day while being active instead of over a cocktail?

The other piece of information I needed to examine was the big why for returning to old habits. So I thought about several factors:

  • At dinner this spring, my grandfather asked me, “What’s next for Coming Clean? Will it be, ‘Keeping House’? Or ‘Tidying Up’?” He was being funny, of course, about the title of my blog, in that, I’ve already “come clean.” But I was exploring another challenge: I had recently finished writing up my weight-loss story for our How I Did It column, and part of me was thinking, Well, I did it! I lost the weight, and now I’m done. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into before, as you’ll read in the story. And I even acknowledged in the story itself that I’m not yet at my goal weight, even though I’m less concerned about the number on the scale. I had to reframe my thinking: This is a continual process of taking care of my body and my mind. I need to embrace all the good that comes with challenging my body long-term.
  • On the subject of my How I Did It story: To have reach one of my weight goals and have this journey published in the magazine is a huge honor. It’s a goal I set a while back, announcing it to my coworkers at one of our holiday dinners. I’ve loved writing this blog, but wanted to put this story out to our readership that doesn’t follow us online: some 2 million people in our reach and 600,000-plus subscribers. Why? Because I’ve been so inspired by these How I Did It stories, and my hope, in sharing my story, is to continue to inspire others, wherever they at on their fitness journey. I wanted to be honest and open, and hope that you all know that I get it, I’m not perfect — even with my role at a health-and-fitness magazine — and this path to healthy living is definitely doable with commitment.
  • I will say, with publishing this story, I was extremely nervous. Not so much for what the readers would say (we’ve got a great, engaged audience), but what my family, friends and fellow journalists would say. Would the comment about me never learning self-care offend my mother, who’s a brilliant nurse and has taught me so much? (In her defense, there were some challenging times during the teen years where I wouldn’t listen to much of anything my parents said.) What would my in-laws say? Would my Grandpa think I was over-sharing in print, for all to read? (My maternal grandparents subscribe to the blog, and my grandpa was a surgeon so I wasn’t too worried there. My paternal grandpa, however, was a principal, and I hadn’t yet shared my struggle with him.) In the days leading up to the story going live on our site, I had some nice talks and email exchanges, so I started feeling a lot better.
  • I’ve been relying on my trainer and Boot Camp group for all my fitness progress/maintenance. This started happening sometime in March, when I started exercising less and less on my own and just focused on my 2–3 Boot Camp workouts each week. In June, when we moved, I decided I needed to mix up my routine because the BC class time didn’t fit with my work schedule and now 30-minute commute. Instead of finding a new outlet, I just stopped. As much as I can’t thank trainer Shane enough for leading me to a stronger, more-awesome body, I need to take back my power and use what he’s taught me for my own workouts. I need to believe in my fitness knowledge and trust myself to work out regularly. The group and Shane will be there when I’m ready and able to reconnect. And I can always find a different time that works for me to train 1-on-1. (If you are in the Twin Cities and want to check out Shane’s Boot Camps, you can email him at skinneyfit@gmail.com.)
  • I’m still in a fragile place, and being accountable is crucial to my success. Getting back to sending my nightly promises to Lauren — and publishing them here for my readers — will, I believe, help me get back on track.

I’m so excited for you all to read “A New Path,” whether that’s online or in the magazine (or both!). You should get your copy of the September issue later this week or early next (preview of my story below). And you can find more helpful and fascinating stories in this issue, which is live on our website today.

As for my healthy-living work: Yes, I’m good, but I can be better. Let’s keep going together.

Sept13_HIDI_meOpeningpic_WEB

 

Experience Life Magazine

Not-So-Fresh Start

Several titles came to mind as I thought about composing this post: “Oops!” “(Mis)treats” or “Pure Humiliation by Way of Cookie Dough” came to mind. And I thought about it these past few days post-incident as I reviewed pages for our June issue, all about discovery.

On my road to better health, I’ve discovered a lot about myself: I can’t tolerate gluten (it makes be bloated, tired, gassy and sends my stomach into somersaults) and dairy (similar effect as what I get with gluten — my poor GI tract! — and I’ve noticed my skin will break out within a day or two of eating dairy [read more on the link to acne and dairy here]). I don’t dig long-distance running, although a good long walk is lovely, especially with the right company. I love lifting weights. And I won’t be deprived if I skip sugar. Really. It’s not the end of the world.

Sometimes, still, I don’t think before I eat. I’ve been practicing some aspects of mindful eating for a while, and really got on board after my visit to Kripalu, but I still face temptations. I fondly remember the yummy homemade meals Grandma made for Sunday dinners, or the Chinese takeout we’d get as a special treat on Fridays. Some of those choices I’ve been able to alter to healthier options, but some I’ve had to let go of altogether.

But not cookies. Which brings me back to my headline quandary for this post. I wanted April to be, as this issue’s cover states, a Fresh Start. I love a new month, new week, new day for all the possibilities it brings. And now it’s really starting to feel like spring here in Minnesota, so I’ve revved up for another detox (or recalibration, as cover subject and nutritionist Darya Pino Rose, PhD, calls it), which I’ve been fond of doing each spring and fall.

Even though I eat fairly cleanly and simply now, I still have a soft spot for certain indulgences. Making cookies reminds me of my youth, of a time when my younger brother and I would hover over a big silver bowl as Mom turned a wooden spoon filled with flour and eggs and sugar. We’d pour in the chocolate chips, then the butterscotch chips, and before we’d set each mound on the baking tray, we’d “test” out the batch to see if it was acceptable. (It always was, but better take a little bit more to double-check.)

I don’t recall ever getting sick, although I wasn’t as tuned in to my GI tract as an 8-year-old.

So when we passed the prepackaged cookie dough at the store on Saturday, I thought it’d be a great idea to make cookies for Kyle’s Grandma Vi. She’s in her 90s, and loves sweets, so it seemed like an Easter gift she’d enjoy. And I’d only have one cookie, or maybe just a piece of the dough — just like I used to do as a kid, when all felt relatively normal.

I sampled the dough on Saturday night, then fell asleep without issue.

But at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, I woke up from some strange dreams and rushed to the bathroom to vomit. I won’t say much more about the violent reaction I endured, but it lasted all day and into Monday. It was a sad, gross 36 hours. I missed all of our Easter celebrations, and even had to miss my friend’s birthday party.

While my body took a physical beating, I raged against my own willpower. Why did I eat the cookie dough? Why?! You fool — an April Fool! Shame, shame!
(Note the message on the package below, which I circled. This clearly needed to be in larger font for me.)

CookieDough_web

Really, I didn’t even want to tell you all. I thought long and hard about it as I recovered. I was embarrassed: Here I am, now down 58 pounds (yes!), armed with all the tools and resources of Experience Life, trained in a new mindset of love for the body I have now and going forward — a love that fuels my choices for nourishing, wholesome food.

But I’m still human. It’s in our nature to want to eat the high-calorie foods that will help us survive, lest a predator chase us from camp and we’d roam the wildness for days without food. (Our instincts are the same, even though food, and “food-like items” or food imposters, are abundant in modern times.) I have a good 30 years of bad habits and confusing messages about health under my belt. There’s still a part of me that hopes for the magic weight-loss pill to appear. I’m a sucker for ease. And I’m sweet on the past, when making and eating cookies didn’t create days of pain and regret.

I’m armed with knowledge now, yes, but sometimes it can be scary. (They spray my food with what?! Genetically modified salmon?! That’s how they make chicken nuggets?! Eeew!) The more I’ve discovered, the more I find myself shopping only in the produce section or finding good farmers at the market to get my meat and eggs. (I wonder if I would’ve become so sick from homemade cookie dough, made with eggs and dairy from farmers I trust, instead of the Big Brand, prepacked preserved mix?)

In some ways I’ve become a better shopper, but in other people’s minds, I may just be picky. But I’m OK with that. We’re not talking about purchasing a clock radio, people: This is the food that fuels my body, which I need to run optimally so I can work and play as I’d like. I’m cool with being picky if it helps me avoid the dramatic scene I faced recently. It’s a terrible event that will haunt me next time I see prepackaged cookie dough — and one that will serve as a reminder to eat well and live well for life.

If you’ve fallen off-track with a healthy-eating plan, don’t despair! And don’t wait to reclaim your health. Take a walk, drink lots of water and eat lots o’ greens. Find more great tips in this post, “What to Do After Eating Badly,” from the folks at Mind Body Green.

 

Experience Life Magazine

September Summary

In July, I had a thought to post my monthly health reports on the last day of said month, a kind of wins and challenges list. It was item No. 3 of my goals: using monthly check-ins to review what worked and what didn’t.

I haven’t yet shared, so here’s what I’ve learned in July, August and September:

What’s working right now:

  • Workouts: Boot Camp three times a week — bonus points for the fourth day! — and Pilates once a week. Last week I had a make-up class, so I attended Pilates two days in a row. And we used an ab wheel during our Boot Camp circuit on Thursday, so my abs were sore all weekend. As if I had been in a boxing ring and taken several hits to the stomach. In a good way, of course. I haven’t made it to yoga or dance classes, so I’m shelving those goals for now.
  • Healthy Eating: Nightly emails to life coach Lauren have kept my focus on mostly yummy, good-for-me foods, but some sweet treats at my birthday celebration and skimpy meals during the week has my diet a bit imbalanced. This past week, I worked to eliminate coffee in preparation to follow Dr. Mark Hyman’s UltraSimple plan with two of my coworkers starting tomorrow. I’m hoping it’ll help me get back to scheduled, healthy meals.
  • Relationships: The vacation to Colorado a few weeks back was great for Kyle and me to break our usual routine and have quality time to relax and talk. No rushing, no “checking in” between errands, work and appointments. Just time to take in the beauty of nature and dream about the future. And with my birthday on the 12th, I was touched by sweet messages from friends and family. My mom and I visited with my younger cousins and aunt and uncle today, and had dinner with my grandparents. It was nice to connect and gain some wisdom from the three generations.

What’s not working:

  • Stress: I’m still seeking the perfect harmony for work and life, but I’ve come to realize that much of my work will seep into my life because my job is all about living better. Brainstorming story ideas on the weekends or updating my blog in the evenings is bound to happen — and that’s OK. If I’m skipping leisure time or workouts in favor of working later (as I’ve done before), then I need to reassess and reschedule projects. I have to remind myself that working out can only help me be a better, more productive employee, as we share in this month’s issue of the magazine (see “Work Out, Work Better”). Right now, I can use daily meditation and journaling to manage stress, even if I’m only checking in for five minutes a day. I’ve also been missing my weekly acupuncture sessions, so I’ll add those back in for October.
  • Overly ambitious scheduling: I have three calendars, one for work, one for projects and one for all other appointments and events pertaining to my life (this one also includes some work meetings). The latter calendar features an “ideal day” calendar, where I:
  1. Rise early to practice yoga and meditate every morning before walking the dog;
  2. Arrive to work before morning meetings to blog;
  3. Break at lunch for spinning or yoga or a walk;
  4. End the daytime hours with a strength-training workout before heading home to…
  5. Make a healthy meal, watch a little TV and…
  6. Read a book and take a bath, before…
  7. Going to bed “early,” which would be 10 pm for me.
  • I’ll expand more on this above ideal day in another post, but so far, I’ve only been able to complete item 4. Sad. This month I’m going to take active steps to get closer to this vision, but it’s worth reviewing the barriers, perceived or not, in me reaching this dream. More to come on this subject.

While travel was great during the summer and September, it was also a bit dizzying. That’s one of my favorite things about fall: a bit slower pace and time to reflect. I can make some adjustments to my goals and figure out what I’m willing to do — and what I actually can do. Students go back to school, and the rest of us, students of life, can obtain a new education, skill or practice.

Tell me about a goal you’ve had to rework — and how you finally made it happen — in the comments section below, or find me on Twitter: @clewisopdahl.

Experience Life Magazine

Sneak Peek

In two days, our July/August issue will be live at ExperienceLife.com. There are so many great pieces in this issue, but I’m particularly proud to share my own article, “Relax. Retreat. Lose Weight.” Last December I attended the Integrative Weight Loss program at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, and wrote about my time there for our Head Out department. Here’s a sneak peek of the story:

Over the summer months, I’ll be expanding a bit on some of the great lessons I learned, including cooking tips from Kripalu and my favorite moments in YogaDance. As always, thanks for reading and sharing!

Experience Life Magazine

The Brain and the Body

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize and absorb new information by forming new neural pathways. It’s really quite remarkable: Simply by learning a new skill or behavior, the cellular structure of the brain begins to change, and new synapses (the connections between neurons) can develop. Even adjusting your thought patterns can cause the brain to rewire, as scientists at UCLA discovered in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Meditation has also been found to affect our gray matter; see Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, PhD, and our archives for more in “Build a Better Brain” and “Upgrade Your Brain.”)

This is over the span of a lifetime, not just in childhood as scientists previously thought. So the times that I’ve thrown up my hands in protest and said, “This is just the way that I am,” was more about my choice to continue a particular behavior versus my ability to change it.

You can exercise your brain with games, reading and learning a new language, for example, just like you exercise the muscles of the body. And exercising your body improves functioning of the brain, in mood, productivity and concentration. It’s all connected, my friends.

Why am I so excited about neuroplasticity? Because the more I learned about the brain, the more enthused I became to take on healthy challenges. Following a new recipe, practicing yoga, accomplishing a box jump at the gym — each new skill stimulated my mind so that I was not only happier and more energized, I started to feel sharper mentally. My emotional responses changed, too: less stressed, more patient and flexible when plans changed.

Take the tool we used in tonight’s workout: the ViPR. It’s a weighted rubber tube with openings for handles. You can swing it during lunges, hold it horizontally during squats, or flip it over as you perform a lateral shuffle, among other exercises. It was my first time using one, and I felt a bit awkward as I flipped the ViPR from side-to-side in my lunges. But I remembered how moves that challenge my balance and coordination improve my body as well as my brain, so I carried on as usual, in a manner to appear like I knew what I was doing. It’ll take some practice, but the benefits in the novelty alone were exciting to consider. (And my obliques were sore the next day, so there’s that.)

What new practice, physical or mental (or both), have you taken up and enjoyed?

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