Countdown to Maui – Day 13: Upping Your Activity Level without Spending More Time at the Gym

Biking - morguefileWell I’m just under two weeks out from my anniversary trip to Maui! I’m excited, of course, but I want to make the most out of the next 14 days in terms of “shaping up” my body. I’ve made a lot of progress during this 50-day countdown so far, but hopefully I can make a just bit more before I hop on my flight.

I don’t do 10-day cleanses, or 3-day juicing diets, or anything like that. For several Hiking - morguefilereasons that merit their own blog post. I’ve been eating quite healthily during the countdown and don’t want to cut back on calories any more than I already do—they are important for muscle growth and recovery as well as my overall health and well-being.

So what can I do? If your diet is on track, your best option is to increase your activity level.

You can certainly add extra gym days and/or do at-home workouts. But if you’re already working out frequently, or if structured workouts aren’t your thing, here are some ways to increase your activity level with a few simple lifestyle tweaks:

  • If you live close enough to run your errands on foot, do it. When the weather is nice, my husband and I walk everywhere—window shopping, dining, movie theater, etc.
  • Choose to spend leisure days doing something active. Take a hike on your day off, go for a bike ride with friends instead of having a get together at the bar. Take a walk with your pals after you’ve chatted over coffee. You get the idea!
  • If you have a dog (or dogs), take them on extra walks, longer walks, or walk them on a more challenging route (hills!).
  • Instead of instant messaging or emailing your coworkers, walk to their desks and deliver messages in person.
  • Set up your desk or workspace so you can stand and work at times, and/or use an exercise ball as a chair.
  • Use work breaks and lunches to take a walk.
  • Bike or walk to work, if possible.
  • Find a sport you enjoy and sign up – many regions have local teams or activities at community centers. For example, you might find a local tennis or volley ball group. Even bowling burns more calories than watching a movie.
  • Go dancing! With friends, at dance classes, at home – wherever. Just dance.
  • Have a Wii or Kinect? There are lots of fun games that make you MOVE.
  • Do some yard work. Mow your lawn using a push mower, weed the flowerbed, plant some new flora, etc.
  • Like arts and crafts? Take on a new project. Building, sanding, painting – all of these things get you moving, and hey, you’ll have something tangible for all your efforts!
  • Been putting off painting that accent wall or hanging your photos/artworks? You’ll be surprised how sore you might wake up after a day of making home improvements.
  • Go swimming, run around with your kids, play fetch with your pooch, deep clean your house…

I could go on, but I think you probably see where I’m going with this.

Walking with child - morguefileThe idea is to incorporate more physical activities into your daily life (take a lesson from kids – they’re always on the go!). The more time you spend being active and the less time you spend on your butt, the more calories you’ll burn, the more muscles you’ll strengthen, the more energy you’ll have, the better your overall health will be…you get it, right? Yes, this will help you slim down and get in better shape if that’s your goal, but it should ultimately be your goal to make this your long-term goal as well. My Eat Up, Shape Up philosophy is: make healthy a lifestyle.

What are you waiting for? Stop reading and go DO something!

What are some of your favorite non-gym physical activities? How do you incorporate more movement into your daily life? I’d love to hear from you!

Countdown to Maui –Day 23: Why I Lift Weights and Why You Should, Too

ACSM Materials

ACSM study materials!

Happy Friday! This has been a great week for me because: 1) I’m starting to see some serious changes happening with my body (woohoo!), 2) my ACSM study materials arrived and I’ve already started diving in, and 3) my primary consulting gig is going to be extended. So, yeah, I’m in a pretty good mood on this sunny Friday (another reason to be happy).

But since this is a fitness blog, let’s talk a bit more about #1.

I had a meeting yesterday, so I actually had to put on a ‘real’ pair of pants (i.e., not leggings). But it was casual, so I wore jeans. Now, I have loads of jeans from prior to my weight gain, but I still can’t squeeze into most of those (size 2…ha! Not yet). In need of some jeans for the occasional meeting with my client, I bought a new pair a few months ago. At the time, I was ecstatic to fit (albeit snugly) into a size 6! I couldn’t believe it. I wore them a couple weeks ago and they were no longer snug, but fit just about right.

Progress!

Progress!

Well, yesterday when I put on those size 6 jeans, I noticed something…I can pull the waistband a couple of inches away from my body. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I was pretty sure my stomach was looking flatter and I’ve noticed significantly less cellulite on the backs of my thighs—but this was proof!

Here’s the thing, though. My weight HAS NOT CHANGED. So what gives?

Well, I’m building muscle while losing fat. My weight isn’t changing, but since muscle is denser than fat, I am getting smaller. This is why you cannot always rely on the scale to measure progress.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: “if you’re eating at a deficit, how are you gaining muscle?” Here’s the thing—I still have quite a bit of excess fat. You can lose fat while gaining muscle, especially if you are not drastically cutting calories. I’m taking the slow and steady route, so I’m still consuming a decent amount of food (more specifically, nutrient-dense food). For your reference, there are several studies indicating that people can simultaneously lose fat and build muscle.

Herb chicken & creamy wild rice.

Herb chicken & creamy wild rice = muscle gains and fat loss.

But I don’t need those studies because I can see the proof for myself, right here on my own body! I have, without a doubt, gained muscle on this journey. I can SEE and feel the increased size and hardness of my muscles…delts, quads, biceps, calves…you get the idea. And damn am I proud of those muscles. Of course, fat loss helps as well in that it allows me to better see muscle definition.

Yes, I’m excited about my fat loss and about fitting into smaller pants. But mostly, I’m excited about the way I FEEL. I am stronger and healthier. I can lift more weight, my cardio performance has dramatically improved, I’m less tired in general, my overall mood is much more positive, and my confidence has increased tenfold. This is why I’m on this journey.

This is why I lift.

Countdown to Maui – Day 29: am I overworking my body?

Listen to your bodyA couple weeks ago, I noticed a minor, nagging pain behind my left knee. I thought maybe I had pinched a nerve or slept wrong or something. Then, last week, the pain got worse. Way worse.

It hurt badly while running and sent radiating pain down my calf and up the back of my thigh. When I did my first rep on the leg extension machine, I grimaced in pain. That night while lying in bed, the radiating pain throughout my leg continued.

Great. Just what I need—an injury to delay my progress.

Make sure to stretch!

Make sure to stretch!

Turns out, it’s hamstring tendonitis. Definitely not the worst possible ailment! I decided to modify my workout so not to further aggravate it, rather than stopping altogether and sacrificing all progress. Turns out, in my case, the two things I really needed to change up were: running and stretching. That is, running less and stretching more.

I admit, I’ve been slacking on my stretching in the past couple of months. As for running, I think I’ve been pushing too hard, too fast.

So here’s what I did:

  • Gently massaged the area (my husband helped 🙂 )
  • Used Icy Hot for temporary relief
  • Switched from the treadmill to the stair climber for the remainder of the week
  • Dedicated plenty of time to stretching after my workout, with additional stretching at home
Shameless dressing room selfie!

Shameless dressing room selfie!

The outcome? I felt ten times better within just a couple of days! I also bought a foam roller to use at home and I’ll make sure to continue changing up my cardio so I’m not using the treadmill for every session (I get shin splints, too, so I should’ve done this long time ago anyway).

To answer the question in my title: kind of. I was overworking my body in the sense that I was running more than my body was ready to and I wasn’t taking the time to properly care for it post-workout; but I wasn’t working out too often or too strenuously overall. The solution FOR ME was to change the type of cardio workouts I was doing and make sure to stretch.

Today, I feel wonderful and will definitely make sure to pay attention to nagging pains before they become a bigger problem. Listen to your body—it knows its limits. Respect those.

NOTE: I am not a doctor, nor do I know what is best for your injury or your body. I cannot diagnose your pain. I’m simply sharing my personal experience. Seek professional medical advice if you are experiencing pain or have an injury.

Are you in tune with your body? Have you ever had an injury derail your fitness progress? Do you push through pain, or do you modify your workouts and address minor issues before they become major? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Countdown to Maui – Day 35: how many calories should I eat?

Nutrition InfoThe BIG question everyone seems to ask when they want to lose weight is: how many calories should I eat?

And depending on who you ask, the answer will vary. Some people advise those seeking to lose weight not to count calories at all. Others state some generic number, like 1200 or 1500 a day. And then there are those who say some ridiculous amount, like 1000 calories a day—whatever you do, DON’T take this advice.

If you are really opposed to counting calories, I suggest you look elsewhere to figure out how to make this work. I’m not saying it can’t work—I know people who take this route—but I personally count calories when I am trying to lose a set amount of weight or reach a specific goal. As I approach my Hawaiian vacation, I am definitely tracking my food. If I’m at a comfortable fitness level and am consistently active, then I don’t count.

Carefully counting calories, for me, leads to successful results. But there are several things to consider when taking this approach. Let’s take a look at those now.

Make sure to eat ENOUGH calories.

Make sure to eat ENOUGH calories.

1. Don’t eat too few calories. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard/read something along these lines: “Aren’t you supposed to eat 1000 calories a day to lose weight?” Where on earth did this ‘magic number’ come from? 1000 calories, ladies, is NOT enough. Everyone’s number is going to be different. I highly recommend the Scooby’s Workshop Calculator for determining how many calories you need in your diet. You’ll probably be surprised at how much you can eat every day and still reach your goals. Do this the healthy, sustainable way for long-term results, okay?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2. Eat nutrient-dense foods. Now that you know you can eat more than 1000 calories a day—YAY!—don’t make the mistake of thinking you can eat all kinds of junk. Sure, that 250-calorie chocolate bar may fit into your daily calorie allotment, but it will not do anything to keep you full or nourish your body; plus, it will spike your blood sugar and likely lead to further sugar cravings. Make sure you’re eating a good balance of complex carbs, protein, and healthy fats (P.S., don’t fear fats). You’d be surprised how full you can feel while dieting if you eat right!

3. Take cheat meals into consideration. So, you know how I just said not to fill your days with junk food? Well, that still stands -BUT- that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge every now and again. Having a treat or ‘cheat meal’ every so often can help you maintain your diet. It’s nice to not feel completely deprived of your favorite foods. That being said, don’t go overboard and undo all your hard work. If you hate math, I’m sorry, but I’m going to show you with numbers how I account for cheat meals.

Who else loves these? YUM!

Who else loves these? YUM!

Think about your weekly calorie intake as opposed to daily. If I need to eat 1,750 calories a day to lose 1 pound a week (which I do), that’s a total of 12,250 calories per week. Now, give yourself a set amount of calories you can dedicate each week to a cheat day (or two, however you like to break it up). For me, I’ll say twice a week I can eat an ‘additional’ 400 calories. Note: these aren’t actually added calories, we are just shifting the week’s calories around. You’ll see what I mean below.

Every Sunday morning, I eat pancakes—my cheat meal. And say I have another cheat meal each week—like pizza (I try to make it a somewhat healthy version, though 😉 ). Take your weekly total (12,250 in my case) and deduct all of your ‘cheat day’ calories (for me, 800). In my example, I’m left with 11,450. Now divide that by 7 (days of the week, obviously), for a total of about 1,635. On a typical day, then, I would eat 1,635 calories. If I have two cheat days a week, I would eat 2,035 calories on those days; if I have one cheat day, I would eat 2,435 calories that day. At the end of the week, I’ve ‘cheated,’ but I am still hitting my weekly calorie goal of 12,250.

This is the key to making cheat meals work. If I ate 1,750 calories a day all week, then ate 3,000+ calories on a cheat day, my total calories consumed for the week equals 13,500! I’d still be in a slight calorie deficit, but I would be drastically slowing my progress. I would lose less than a half a pound a week—and would probably become discouraged. See how only a few more calories consumed on a cheat day could cause a weight loss plateau? This is a common mistake and frustration for dieters who think: “but I’ve been good ALL week long!”

Indulge, but work those indulgences into your weekly goals. One last warning: don’t make your cheat day calories so high that you drastically cut into your typical days’ calories. You need enough calories EVERY day to keep your energy levels up and feel satisfied.

I promise, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Basically, make sure your daily calories always add up to your weekly calorie goals. Math lesson over.

Scale4. Measure and log everything. In the beginning, at least. It’s just way too easy to overestimate or underestimate portions and serving sizes. The difference between 2 tablespoons and 4 tablespoons of peanut butter is 200 calories—think about that. If you eat PB every morning and use more than you think you are, you could unknowingly be adding 1,400 calories to your intake each week. Measuring works. Also, don’t forget to track that handful of almonds you just ate; one forgotten serving is 160 calories. These things add up! This is often why people think their diet is not working when they are “doing everything right.”

5. Re-evaluate and adjust regularly. As you lose weight and/or change your activity level, you will need to recalculate your calorie needs. Scooby’s Workshop, mentioned above, suggests recalculating your needs every time you lose more than 5 pounds. When I started, I was 159 pounds and started losing at about 1,850 calories a day. Then I moved to 1,800 calories/day at 150 pounds. Currently, at 138 pounds, I’m eating 1,750 calories each day, as I mentioned above. Use Scooby’s calculator, though—there are many individual variables to take into consideration (i.e., age, activity level, goals, etc.).

Dig in!

Dig in!

6. Add more activities, add more calories. Want to eat more? Work out more. Simple as that. Obviously, choosing nutrient-dense foods over fatty, sugary foods, as stated above, will allow you to eat more food each day (think a big platter of chicken and veggies as compared to a puny Milky Way). But if you’re looking to eat even more, up your activity level. Calories in versus calories out. I like food, so I’m happy to sweat for it.

7. Don’t get obsessive. Okay, now to seemingly contradict everything I’ve just said. Don’t let this completely take over your life. Yes, you want to lose weight and yes, being vigilant of what you eat and how much you consume will help you reach your goals. But as I’ve said before, your overall goal is to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the long haul. So one week you ate birthday cake, and had happy hour drinks with friends, and, and, and… Oh well. It’s one week out of 52 a year. Events happen, overindulgences happen, life happens. It’s okay! Enjoy the good times and the good food, and get back on track. Don’t let these moments derail you—in the big picture, that’s all they are: moments.

I hope you found this information helpful rather than overwhelming. Like I said, don’t let your entire life revolve around the numbers. After you’ve lost some initial weight and get a sense for what to eat and how much, try experimenting with not counting your calories. Carefully tracking every morsel of food is probably not sustainable in the long run, but can be a great way to get the ball rolling and see some initial success.

Right now, as I count down to Maui, I’m being pretty vigilant so that I can lose fat in a fairly calculated way. I’ve lost an inch from my waist and a half an inch from my hips since I last provided my measurements! So it is definitely working 🙂

Do you count your calories? Are cheat meals/days part of your weight loss plan? Why or why not? I welcome opposing views, but please keep it respectful!

 

 

Countdown to Maui – Day 44: Measurements & At-home Circuit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter I published the initial post in this series last week, I thought, “Hey, just because I didn’t take measurements when I first started this journey doesn’t mean I can’t take them now.” Duh. I mean, I am trying to measure progress over this 50-day period, right?

So I got out my measuring tape.

Here are my numbers:

  • Bust – 36”
  • Waist – 30”
  • Hips – 39”
  • Thighs – 24”
  • Arms – 12”

I have a long way to go yet, but like I said last time, being able to SEE your progress is a Yoga Matreal motivator.

Last Friday, instead of going to the gym, I did an at-home, floor work circuit. I liked it so much, I did it again today! This time, though, I added a 20-minute treadmill HIIT workout as well. It’s grind time!

In case you’re interested in the circuit I did, I’m sharing it here (one of these days I’ll try to post a video). Let’s call it the Thigh, Belly & Booty Blaster 🙂

Start by lying on your right side:

Turn onto left side:

  • 10 inner-thigh lifts – left leg
  • 10 lateral leg lifts – right leg

Lie on back:

  • 10 glute bridges (hold last rep for 30 seconds)
  • 10 split & reach crunches (start with legs together in the air, drop them out to the sides in a ‘V’ shape while simultaneously lifting your torso off the ground and reaching through your legs; check out this Pin if you need help visualizing)

Move onto hands and knees:

  • 10 donkey kicks alternating with 10 fire hydrants – right leg
  • 10 donkey kicks alternating with 10 fire hydrants – left leg

Get into plank position:

Stand up:

  • 10 jump squats alternating with standing cross-body crunches (i.e., start in squat position, jump, landing in a squatting position; once you land after each squat, stand tall, raise your right leg to your left elbow, then your left leg to your right elbow; perform another jump squat followed by cross-body crunches…continue for 10 reps)

Repeat the circuit 3 times, moving fluidly between each exercise without rest. If you must have a break, take 30-60 seconds after each round. I know it burns, but trust me – you CAN do it.

Once you’ve completed the entire workout, take some time to cool down, stretch, and revel in your post-workout endorphins.

Congrats – you just performed nearly 400 reps in about 20 minutes! Pat yourself on the back and eat some protein.

This is a great beginner’s workout and can be scaled for more advanced training. Add reps, add weight, do more rounds…you get the idea.

Try it and let me know what you think!

Do you do at-home workouts? Why/why not? Share some of your favorite bodyweight moves below!