5 Ways You Only Think You’re Being Healthy

5 ways is meant to be a way to convey helpful advice to my friends and anyone else who happens upon this blog. Mostly my aim is to make this a positive endeavor, though every once in a while, I need to crack skulls. It’s time to cut the crap and get down to the truth about ways people only think they’re being healthy.

1. The Diet Product Dilemma: This is one most of us seem to know, so how is it that there are still so many companies peddling these products to a suspecting public? I won’t go into the fact that these food items are loaded with chemicals and other nasties, because EVERYONE ALREADY KNOWS THAT. Seriously, if you are really that concerned about something being low-fat, then just skip it entirely. That’s the obvious way to avoid the fat.  (And by the way, low-fat often means higher sugar content. How else is it still meant to actually “taste good?”) Rather than loading the pantry with sweeteners, low-fat cookies and other diet food traps, keep a bag of Reeses cups in the fridge and just have one as a small indulgence when you need a sugar hit. Sounds crazy, but it works!

2. Milk Myths: Okay people, let’s rap. According to my boss, who has been working in cafés his entire life (yes, literally), drinking a full-cream milk coffee everyday versus a skim coffee everyday only means you could gain 1-2kg in a year. A YEAR. Not a week, not a month, but a YEAR. I understand that we all get bloated tummies from time to time and I happen to be a skim drinker myself under normal circumstances. But when it comes to my coffee I indulge because it tastes amazing.

Now I’m not saying switch back to full-cream milk. There are benefits and drawbacks no matter your preference.  My beef isn’t really with skim milk anyway (unless you call it “skinny” in which case my eyes are shooting lasers at you now), my real issue is with soy.

People seem to think that soy milk is the “healthiest.” Did you know that soy milk has about the same amount of fat as full-cream milk? In fact its general nutritional facts are almost interchangeable from normal whole milk. At the café we only run out of soy milk every once in a while, but when we do, it’s shocking to see that only 10% or so of people out there ordering soy actually need it for dietary reasons. Most people will sigh and get their 60-cent-less-expensive normal coffee on these occasions.

*Sidenote: If you’re drinking soy with a chai latte, then bravo. It’s the best taste combination ever, so I applaud you. But chai lattes are never the healthiest option regardless of milk choice. (Who really cares? SCLs are delicious.)*

Milk is tricky and affects everyone’s bodies differently. I am not trying to promote one thing over another. If you are trying to make the healthiest choice for yourself then ask your doctor to make the call. Otherwise go with what tastes good.  Remember there is no one milk “to rule them all.” It all depends on your own nutritional needs. In cases where the ultimate goal is weight loss, probably go with skim. (But never “skinny,” remember lasers.)

3. Gluten-Free is Not For Me: Let me ask you something; do you have a gluten allergy? No? Cool, then eat bread like a normal person. I have served entire tables of 10+ people where everyone present ordered gluten-free toast as their breakfast. Maybe it was a Coeliac support group, but I’ve seen this pretty often, so I’m guessing these people were mistakenly thinking that being Gluten-Free is some sort of diet.  Actually it’s a way for people to keep from DYING. I’ve had many a patron lecture me on the severity of this affliction, and I’m happy they have. I take this issue very seriously and so should everyone. (There are varying degrees of gluten allergies of course, but all are a significant lifestyle change for the person affected.)

So before you reach for the gluten-free muffin, remember that gluten-free does not mean carb-free.

4. Everyday I’m Shuffling: This is one piece of advice I find really hard to follow.  Exercising 7 days a week is a no-no. Even professional athletes will include some level of rest and recuperation into their regimen. It’s important to give yourself days of rest or at least of low-level activity. Maybe alternate between cardio and strength days to allow every part of your body to regain its energies at some point during the week. Add some yoga or mediation to your routine, allowing for a mind and body experience to relax or to regain your focus.

Marathoners especially praise the benefits of the rest days. When training for something so physically demanding, overdoing it will lead either to illness or injuries.  In my case it’s usually injuries. Respect your body and give it a break.

5. Let Off Steam: This one is deceptive. Everyone needs to release stress and anxiety in order to function. I am extremely guilty when it comes to venting when I’m frustrated.  While a little bit may be necessary, too much sends out negative energy into your atmosphere, infecting the people around you. Focusing on the negative thoughts and feelings isn’t good for your mental and emotional health. Don’t walk around with a storm cloud above your head, get it out swiftly and be done with it. (Journaling and exercise can also be great ways to force out pent-up frustration.)

The rule I’d like to start living by is to share my anger with one or two other people and then let it go. It’s important not to whine to everyone you know about the same problem. This makes you seem negative, and it makes people less inclined to spend time with you. Be the kind of person who infects others with positive energy!

That concludes this edition of 5 ways. I hope I’ve ended on a positive note. I don’t mean to be critical or even hypocritical. I know there are many ways in which I fail to live healthy. It’s important to identify the ways we’re struggling and to work to get past them. Remember it’s almost time for those New Years resolutions. Aim high and like Bupa says: “Find a healthier you!”

Final note: It’s not a skinny cap when you’re adding four sugars. Okay it’s finally off my chest, I promise!

5 Ways to Boost Your Energy

Throughout the day I hear a wave of complaints: I’m so tired/thirsty/hungry/hot/cold…Seems to me people can easily fix most of those problems, but today I’m going to address the most annoying one of all: Fatigue.  I cannot believe how “tired” everyone is on a regular basis.  Here are a few ways you can bump up your energy levels and make each day more engaging.

1. Eat Breakfast:  Sure we all hear this little piece of gold advice everywhere, so why do so many people keep skipping it?  These are the excuses people often give: I overslept/didn’t have time, I’m not hungry in the morning, I’m watching my weight…the list goes on.  Before you go to sleep at night, pack your bag, set out your clothes, and make sure you’re completely prepared for the day ahead.  Also set your alarm 10 minutes earlier than you think you need.  That way if you struggle to get out of bed, or spend 5 extra minutes in the shower, it won’t ruin your day.  You don’t need to check your email/facebook/twitter in the morning, that’s why we have smart phones!  Updates are a perfect way to get through your morning commute on the train or your walk to the office.

The reason you may not be hungry in the morning is that you haven’t slept enough, or you’ve gotten your stomach in the bad habit of depriving itself in the morning hours.  You don’t need to eat a huge meal, just enough to give you a bit of energy and to switch on your metabolism (which is a factor in helping you maintain your weight).

2. Morning fitness and “me” time:  As often as I can, I do yoga or go for a run in the morning before work.  This can mean waking up as early as 5:15am.  When I take that time for myself in the morning, I feel the most awake throughout the day.  I practice Ashtanga yoga in studio once a week, but I like to keep it up in the mornings at home.  I give myself an extra half hour or so in the morning, and I’m usually able to make it through all of the standing poses.

Even if you get up early to read, to meditate, or just to enjoy a cup of tea, it’s important to breathe deeply and focus on yourself for a few minutes every morning.  Give yourself a chance to wake up in a quiet thoughtful setting before running out into a hectic day.

3. Kick the Habit:  So many people depend on coffee, soda and energy drinks to get through the day.  Others rely on an afternoon nap.  It is important to wean yourself off these things if you want to experience a more natural high.

I don’t begrudge anyone a cup of coffee in the morning, but forming an actual dependence is going to make you drowsy and give you headaches on those mornings when you don’t make it to the café before work.  Just drink water and get some vitamin C in your system.  Maybe instead of having three large coffees a day, switch to smalls.  Then maybe cut down to two a day.  Whenever you’re kicking a habit, just take it slow and give your body plenty of time to adjust.  Similarly, avoiding the nap trap is important.  Don’t take 90 minutes every afternoon.  Get a 20 minute power nap in if you really need it.  You’ll wake up refreshed, rather than tired and dizzy.

4. Consider the two-day rule:  Studies show that poor sleep can affect us two days later.  So if you are up all night on Saturday, chances are you’ll feel awful come Monday.  Recovery time from a bad night’s sleep can be significant, and naps often don’t help.  Nighttime sleep is really the only cure.  If you have a big presentation on Thursday, make sure that you get plenty of sleep on both Tuesday AND Wednesday.

5. Get to Bed Before Midnight: Some people say we get our best and most effective sleep before midnight.  Others say optimal sleep happens between around 10pm and 6am.  In my experience, most people seem to get up for work somewhere between 6:00 and 7:30am.  In order to get the solid 7-8 hours, it makes sense to go to bed before midnight.  Even for those who claim to “not need that much sleep” at least you’ll be awake and alert and READY to jump out of bed when it’s time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of 5 ways.  Until next time, GET SOME FREAKIN’ SLEEP!

5 ways to Get and Stay Motivated

Motivation (or more accurately, lack-thereof) is one of the biggest problems affecting our lazy society.  I would go to the gym, but it’s such an effort. I’ve eaten so well this week, I can take a break today.  It’s too far away, I can’t be bothered.  Sound familiar?

Here are my five ways to get or stay motivated:

1. Set Reasonable Goals:  If you have never run a mile in your life, don’t just decide one day you want to run a marathon.  Start small, and create little goals for yourself along the way.  Even if you are working toward a bigger picture, it’ll help you stay super motivated if it involves smaller wins along the way.  Setting reasonable goals also means SPECIFY SPECIFY SPECIFY!  Don’t just say “this week, I’m going to be healthier.”  Instead, say “this week I’m going to exercise 5 days for 30 minutes each.”  Your brain likes variety, so allow yourself many ways of accomplishing the task.  If you need help, or just a little encouragement, check this out:

*To set the “right” health-related goals, maybe have one session with a physio, dietician or a personal trainer to find out where you are weak and what your focus should be.

2. Prepare! Think ahead: Of course it’s easier to stay in bed than to go for that morning run you promised yourself you’d do.  The best way to fight the morning groan is to set your alarm for a couple minutes earlier than you need.  That way if you have an inner argument you haven’t wasted the time you could have spent accomplishing your goals.  Also get to bed at a reasonable hour and set your clothes and other necessities out the night before.  Make sure those running shoes are staring at you when you roll over in the morning.

Thinking ahead also applies to the way in which you RSVP.  Don’t say yes to an event or Friday plans with friends if you foresee that the week will completely take it out of you.  Anticipate how tired you will be before you commit.  People aren’t offended if you say no from the start, and it’ll help you be more motivated and energetic for the next big activity.

3. Pump up the Jam: There are three times when you are likely to listen to music outside of home: In the car, on public transport and while you exercise.  These are usually areas where you need a bit of a pump-up.  Driving around running errands can be taxing, the bus ride to work can be a bit depressing on a dreary Monday, and exercise in the city or at the gym can be not-so-relaxing.  One of my small hidden talents happens to be making mixes.  I love a good mix, and I have since the Napster days when we first realized we could have the music we want and put in together in a compilation of our own creation.  I believe that events, whether significant or not, require a good mix.  I love listening to the radio every once in a while because it’s a great place to find good running songs.  I find music helps me drown out the noises of the outside world and focus inward.  Here are 5 of my all-time favorite exercise/pump-up songs (feel free to judge!):

-If We Ever Meet Again by Timbaland ft. Katy Perry (I know it’s random, but I love to put it toward the end of a running mix because it really gets me going all over again)

-Super Freak by Rick James

-Sleepyhead by Passion Pit (perfect first song to get you started)

-Take Over Control by Afrojack

-Don’t Feeling Like Dancing by Scissor Sisters

Don’t forget the general treasure chest that is the 90s.  90s music is the BEST for singing loud in the car or jamming out during a run.  Another Night by The Real Mccoy is my all-time fave, but other great ones include: Rhythm is a Dancer, Mr. Vain, and of course the Jock Jams megamix.

Use music whenever you need it.  Personally I need a super sweet dance mix if I’m going be motivated to clean the house.  It’s the main reason I love to clean alone!

4. Phone a Friend: This one is pretty obvious, but having a friend along is one of the best ways to stay motivated.  Whether it’s a new diet or a vigorous exercise class, having mates at your side makes everything easier and more fun.

I personally am someone who likes a balance between friends and independence.  More often than not I go for goals by myself.  But I have many friends who find it extremely difficult to exercise alone.  It’s all about personal preference.  Make it a routine if you can, on Tuesday I go to Body Attack with Meg, on Sunday I go for a long run by myself.  Routines keep you in the right head space, and you are more likely to accomplish your goals if you feel like it’s mandatory (even when self-inflicted).

5. Get the Gear: Matt and I are both avid writers and sometimes we lose inspiration.  I find that buying myself a pretty new journal is often a good place to start.  It gets me in the mood to write.  A few of my friends have recently started exercising more, and once they invested in some quality clothing and equipment, they found it easier to stay motivated (one of them didn’t even previously own a sports bra, despite being a decent athlete).  Exercise clothing is my weakness.  Matt can’t understand why I need 5 pairs of spandex (2 for yoga, 1 for running, 2 for both).  But when you have a rigorous fitness routine (and you’re a slave to the sun when it comes to laundry), it ends up making sense.  I always try to get in on the sales at lululemon when they happen.  It’s best to stock up whenever you can.  I love having the right gear, I feel it legitimizes my athletic status.

Do your research, and make sure you aren’t wasting money on things you don’t need.  Also be sure that your new activity is one you’ll be into for a good long while (aka don’t invest in a yoga or pilates mat for one class only).

There you have it, my 5 ways to get and stay motivated.  When I come up with ideas for 5 ways, I do my best to portray changes people can easily make.  It’s all about forming good habits and making small adjustments.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

5 Ways to Love Your Back

Welcome to the first post in my brand new 5 ways segment.  I thought I’d start simple, though my brain is absolutely bursting with ideas.

Back pain is one of the most comment complaints I hear (especially at work).  Along with fatigue, it seems to be one of those things that plagues absolutely everyone.  I suppose what’s compelled me to write this piece is that it appears no one is willing to actually address their aches at the source.  To beat tough pain, don’t go straight for the Advil.  Here are my tips to love and care for your back:

1. Foam Roller: You’ve probably seen this contraption at the gym.  It’s great for all sorts of injuries and tightness, but did you know it can help loosen your upper back and shoulders?  One more reason I’m sad my sister Rachel isn’t around; there’s no one to crack my back!  For that satisfying crunch to release tension, use a foam roller.

*DO NOT use any unfamiliar equipment without consulting a professional. Gym trainers and instructors are happy to help, so have one of them teach you how to use the roller properly. Otherwise consult a physiotherapist!

2. Lighten Your Load:  We’ve all been hearing this one since elementary school.  Students especially carry way too much heavy stuff.  It’s important that your back not be burdened by too much unnecessary weight.  So if you’re going out for the day, my suggestion is to carry a small shoulder bag or satchel rather than your heaping handbag with your whole life inside.  Really all you need is your phone, wallet and lip gloss, right?

*A tip for dudes: Lucky you that a wallet in the pocket is all you need! Don’t forget to remove wallet and phone from your pockets before sitting down (I know that sounds obvious, but not everyone does it).  Sitting for prolonged periods with your wallet in the back pocket is extremely hazardous to your back!

3. Change Your Footwear:  I can’t believe how many people out there are killing their backs with bad footwear.  This was the first change I made when I was feeling the burden of daily back pain.  I probably tried 5 different pairs of work shoes before finding gold.  I never thought I’d say it, but I am a convert to the church of Crocs.  Nowadays they make simple ballet flats, so you can get away with wearing them to work.  They are super supportive, comfortable, and they have done wonders for my lower back.  Even if you wear them for the commute, it will help your poor back and feet to relax before you throw on the professional pumps at the office.  For guys having issues, they make plenty of feet and back friendly shoes for gents as well.  If you aren’t ready to sacrifice a bit of style, perhaps look at investing in some high quality insoles.

4. Double Strap It:  This is another change that is so simple I can’t believe everyone hasn’t already done it.  I know it can look a bit dorky, but wearing a backpack to work has really helped my upper back and shoulders.  Rather than spending significant periods of each day feeling lopsided by a loaded purse or a weighty gym bag, a backpack is big enough to fit everything you need without killing your back.  Plus with the free hands, you can hold your umbrella AND text at the same time!

5. Treat Yourself: Regular massage is a great way to care for your back and to release tension.  I recommend getting one once a month.  If you’re an athlete like me, remedial sports massage or even appointments with the chiropractor can be a great way to recover from training.  Massages don’t need to break the bank; check your local Scoopon/Groupon/OurDeal and you’ll find regular posts for discounted treatments.

And there you have it, my 5 tips to love your back.  See you soon for the next healthy helping of sound advice!

5 ways: My new project

Hello friends!

I’m launching a new segment on this blog called “5 ways.”  As my Aussie friends are well aware, I am something of an advice queen.  When you want a straight answer, I’m your girl.  I find it very difficult to bite my tongue and hide my opinion when being asked directly.  I’ve decided this isn’t a bad skill to have as a blogger.

Every now and then when I feel inspired, I’ll be posting advice and information in the form of lists of 5 (e.g. “5 ways to tone your core” or “5 ways to get organized.”)  I do not presume to be in expert in many things, but when it comes to lists, I’m a pro.

I won’t post one at the moment.  I’m likely to miss my bus to work as it is.  Watch out for “5 ways” in the coming weeks!