Enough is enough

I’m pretty susceptible to advertising. Like those fast food commercials, where the Coke is so fizzy and you can almost feel how cold it is? Ahhh. Or just about any Hallmark commercial will have me reaching for the tissue box before it’s over.

I also really have a thing for clever tag lines — especially ones that employ a play on words. For example: Kudos to whoever came up with the slogan for a mattress company: “Sleepy’s, for the rest of your life.”

Anyway … I’m sure you’re wondering, how does this relate to exercise and a healthy lifestyle?

I’m not a paid (or unpaid) spokesperson, nor do I have any special affinity for the company, but I think one of the most brilliant slogans ever is Nike’s “Just do it.”

traffic-lights-208253Just do it.

Simple. Actionable. Inspiring. Even motivating. All in three words.

And right now, lately, I could use a lot of the latter. I feel a little embarrassed to say this as a fitness instructor, but I have been severely lacking in the motivation (and, for that matter, willpower) department. Summer is usually the time when I’m shot out of a cannon, getting in lots of long walks, working in my yard for half the weekend, doing lots of biking, eating piles of fresh fruit and vegetables.

But I’ve been in a slump the past month or two. I’ve had countless arguments with myself about getting out of bed and going to the gym, or resisting too many sweet treats. Bed and treats have been winning. It’s so easy to get into a vicious cycle. Not exercising leaves me more fatigued, which makes me not feel like getting out of bed in the morning, which makes me feel like a slug, which makes me want to wallow … repeat.

Enough is enough.

Alarm goes off for gym time? Just do it.

Be more active? Just do it.

Choose veggies and hummus instead of potato chips? Just do it.

Take a lap around my office instead of checking Facebook? Just do it.

Mind over matter … here I go.

Happy anniversary!

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Walk With Joelle. (Or, as Monica on Friends would say, “Happy blogiversary!”)

flag-655337I hope over the past year you’ve been entertained, informed, inspired or motivated by what you’ve read here. Or maybe all of the above. My intent is to do all of those and, in the process, encourage enthusiasm about living a healthy lifestyle. It’s so easy to think short-term, but working to stay fit and healthy has enormous long-term benefits.

In honor of this occasion, some number crunching:

Number of posts: 63

Some of the most popular: “Keeping pace,” “Top advice for keeping a resolution,” “Not so sweet,” “One million bucks

Some of the least: “Guilty as charged,” “It goes both ways

Number of miles an average person walks in one year: Roughly 1,100

Number of people who did a half marathon in the past year: More than 2 million

Record-setting age of the oldest woman to finish a full marathon, which occurred in May: 92 (so inspiring!)

Number of ideas I have for future posts: Too many to count, so keep reading!

Thanks for your support over the past year and I hope you will continue to be entertained, informed, inspired and/or motivated by Walk With Joelle.

Spring walking class: Register now!

Starting May 7, I’ll be teaching a 6-week walking workout class in Bridgewater, NJ. Here are the details:

Walking Workout: Turn an everyday activity into more of a workout. Whether it’s a casual walk or more vigorous exercise, this class is designed to develop the proper walking form to maximize your exercise time. Walk at your own pace or challenge yourself with speed changes or interval drills. Sessions will also include some strengthening moves.

Where: Class will meet at The PeopleCare Center, 120 Finderne Ave., Bridgewater. (It’s at the intersection of Route 28 and Finderne Ave., by the TD Bank and CVS.) The program is sponsored by Jointure – Child Enrichment & Adult Education

When: Thursdays, May 7 through June 25, from 6 to 7 p.m. (There will be no class on May 21 or 28.)

Cost: $60

Register: Please call (908) 722-0233, ext. 14. Or email walkwithjoelle@mindspring.com and I’ll send you the registration form.

Hope to see you there!

What’s your excuse?

shield-417826Even though I’m a walking coach and fitness instructor, I have trouble finding motivation to exercise sometimes. February was one of those times.

Oh, wait — it’s now March and I still feel the same way…

Usually, I exercise most mornings before work, and one or both days of the weekend. Every winter, though, I reach a certain point where I seem to throw in the towel. I just don’t want to go outdoors in the cold a single extra time. (You see, I hate winter and being cold.)

To go to the gym requires 5 extra times outdoors (#1 to start my car so it warms up, #2 to depart for the gym, #3 to go from car to gym, #4 to reverse that, and #5 from car to house). It all may sound ridiculous (and very repetitive to some of my Facebook friends), but it is what it is. It’s like I develop a physiological block.

If for some reason the block lifts, other weird rationalizations crop up. Last night, I debated going to the gym this morning. But then I thought about the weather forecast for the rest of the week: cold rain on Wednesday, snow on Thursday, cold and dry on Friday. A little voice inside said, Why bother going tomorrow if you won’t go again until Friday? Another voice responded, Yeah, that seems pointless. (I’m not crazy, I promise. Don’t you have voices that talk to you sometimes?)

My saving grace (except for the three weeks when bad weather canceled it) is the circuit class I teach one night a week, and the yoga class I’m taking thanks to a Groupon deal. At least that’s meant 2 days a week of working out, if nothing more. I have also gone to the gym on the past few Saturdays to put in 60-plus minutes on a cardio machine.

I love the energy and the high I get from working out. But when winter drags on, the promise of those feelings doesn’t usually win out over succumbing to my wish to avoid the cold.

Several of my friends keep inviting me to workweek step challenges on Fitbit. I have high praise for them, as they proudly get in their mileage in 13-degree weather, in the cold, even indoors around their house. But even the challenge is not enough to stir me to activity.

At least this winter I made it through January before this phase hit me. Last year, it came much earlier, and I spent January and February mainly in sloth mode.

We all have reasons and rationalizations that may keep us from making the healthiest choice, or the choice that we know will make us feel great when all is said and done. I guess part of the battle is recognizing them and acknowledging them. The other part of the battle is overcoming them, and I confess I’ve not been so successful on that front.

But tomorrow is another day. (Well, tomorrow is rainy and the next day is snowy … so I have my fingers crossed for Friday.)

Shame on you, restaurants

fortune-cookies-354525_1280Today I went out to lunch with some friends from work. We went to a Chinese restaurant. The menu featured the usual Chinese restaurant fare — you know, lo mein, egg rolls, beef and broccoli, General Tso’s chicken, etc.

One section of the menu featured some appealing options. You could choose from chicken, shrimp or scallops. Then pick three veggies — choices included mushrooms, bell peppers, baby corn, carrots, snow peas and many more. Have it all steamed or stir-fried, with a choice of rice (fried, white, brown).

Sounds great, right?

Until you see that the heading for this section of the menu is DIET SPECIAL.

It gave me a slight pause upon ordering (chicken, bell peppers, broccoli and asparagus, steamed, with brown rice, thank you). But then the more I thought about it for the rest of the day, I was the one who was steamed.

Why not call this section HEALTHY OPTIONS? Or HEALTHY CHOICES? Or FRESH CHOICES? Or anything other than DIET SPECIAL? Dubbing it as such adds an unnecessary sheen of shame to the ordering process. Do I need to be on a diet if I’m ordering from that section of the menu? Should I feel like a glutton if I order from the non-diet special section of the menu? Why categorize it with a scolding spin?

Because the thing is, choosing to eat lean protein and fresh veggies, prepared in a healthy way (e.g., steamed, sautéed, broiled) and accompanied by a whole grain (such as brown rice), shouldn’t be considered a DIET SPECIAL. Or any form of dieting, for that matter. It should be the way we eat the majority of the time. There’s not really a need for dieting when one eats whole foods in as close to their original state as possible. And there’s no need to categorize it as such.

When I hear “diet special,” I think of diner throwbacks like an ice-cream-scoop-shaped heap of tuna salad with cottage cheese on a lettuce leaf. I think of a meal that’s more of a chore because clearly, by its categorizing, it probably isn’t tempting nor appealing. It doesn’t sound at all rewarding or pleasurable.

I don’t know about you, but when faced with myriad choices on a restaurant menu, I sometimes have a hard time making the healthier choice. And when that choice has a built-in stigma — because it’s dubbed as DIET — it can make me less inclined to make that choice. I can almost hear a little voice in my head: “Who are you to tell me I should have a diet meal?”

My lunch was tasty and fresh and made me feel clean and energized. Ideally, that how most meals should feel. Without the shame of labels.

Winter survival plan

mountain-bike-61097So it’s just about mid-January. Spring is more than 60 days away. You need a plan to get you through the next couple of dark, cold months — a reason to haul yourself out of bed or off the couch and work out. A way to stay active until the change of seasons.

Signing up for a spring race is a great motivator!

Whether it’s for a 5K, a half marathon or even a full marathon, having a training plan to stick to can help you survive winter and look forward to spring (not that you aren’t already dreaming of warmer days, right?).

Say you’re thinking of a half marathon. If you’re a beginner, you’d need at least 16 weeks (4 months) to train for the distance. If you’re experienced — that is, you’ve done a half marathon before or do significant walking already — you need about 10 to 13 weeks (3 or so months). And how ’bout that, the timing is perfect to start now and be ready for a race in April, May or June, depending on your experience level.

With properly layered cold weather gear, you can do training walks outside in all but the most brutal of weather. In a pinch, you can clock several miles on the dreadmill. I’ve done 8 miles on the treadmill at my gym. It was pretty boring, but to keep it from being as deadly, I did the first 4 on one treadmill, watching TV, and the second 4 on a different treadmill on another floor, watching a Zumba class in action.

In any case, I can help you put together a training plan and prepare for your event. Visit this page. And in the meantime, here are several suggestions for spring races. These are all in the New Jersey tristate area. If you live elsewhere, visit this site to search for an event in your neck of the woods.

Philadelphia Love Run Half Marathon

Date: March 29

Info: Take a tour of the city of Brotherly Love. The race starts and finishes by the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art, the giant stairs of which Rocky raced up in the same-named movie. The course circles into Center City and back, then goes out and back along the Schuykill River.

Note: The race is already 85 percent sold out, so don’t delay! This is the race’s second year. I did it last year with friends. It was rainy and chilly, but the course volunteers were terrific! Weather can really vary in late March, so this year might prove to be balmy and sunny.

Website: www.cgiracing.com/theloverun/

Unite Half Marathon and 8K at Rutgers University

Date: April 12

Info: The course for this half marathon meanders through several of the campuses of Rutgers University. I did this race two years ago on a cool spring morning, the weekend after the Boston Marathon bombing. Race organizers passed out hundreds of small American flags to participants, and many racers had tributes to Boston on their shirts and such. The 3.5-hour time limit is welcoming to walkers.

Note: This race, too, is quickly filling up and is already at 70 percent capacity.

Website: www.cgiracing.com/unite/

The April Fool's race medal.

The April Fool’s race medal.

Atlantic City April Fool’s Half Marathon

Date: April 12

Info: More than half of this course is on the boardwalk, with a lovely ocean view. The rest goes through neighboring towns, and the entire course is super flat. The weekend also includes a 7K and an 11K. The whole race has a fun spirit about it.

Website: www.acraceseries.com/April_Fools.htm

More/Fitness Women’s Half Marathon

Date: April 19

Info: This event, sponsored by the magazines More and Fitness, is for women only. The course is centered in NYC’s Central Park. Demand is high, so if you’re interested, look into registering pronto.

Website: morefitnesshalf.com/race-day

New Jersey Marathon & Half Marathon

Date: April 26

Info: Here’s another flat race with a course that in part goes on a boardwalk with an ocean view. It starts and finishes on the boardwalk in Long Branch, NJ.

Website: www.thenewjerseymarathon.com

Airbnb Brooklyn Half

Date: May 16

Info: This race is among those in the New York Road Runners stable of events. In particular, the NYRR holds a five-borough series. I’ve done the Queens leg but have four more to go! Someday… Registration is not yet open.

Website: www.nyrr.org/nyrr-5-borough-series

The Wild Half (Wildwood, NJ)

Date: May 17

Info: Are you noticing a theme here? This is yet another race in a beach town. This one is on my to-do list, for sure, but 2015 won’t be my year due to conflicting plans. The weekend also includes a 5K and an 8K.

Website: www.runwildwoods.com

ODDyssey Half Marathon

Date: June 14

Info: And yet another Philadelphia race, at a time of year when decent weather is a better possibility!

Website: www.oddysseyhalfmarathon.com

This list offers a starting point but I’m happy to help you find a race that meets your needs. Contact me — or share your suggestions in the comments.

Keep moving

Spending so much time bicycling this summer had me wondering how on earth I’d keep up that level of activity when summer was over.

Thanks to an uptick in the temperature today, I spent about 4 hours outdoors being active.

I started my morning with an hour-long brisk walk. After that great warm-up, I spent another hour or so raking leaves. (Thanks to the hubby for bagging them up!) Then I dug up some dead annuals in my flowerbeds and garden and spent another hour or so pruning my going-crazy forsythia bushes and bundling up the results.

Feeling stiff!

Feeling stiff!

Midway through all this activity, I marveled at how good I felt. I have a full-time desk job and as much as I try and remind myself to get up and move around throughout the day, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. Couple that with a 2-hour total commute each day, and I sometimes feel like I’m permanently in a seated position. I envision someone coming to my aid with an oilcan, much like the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.”

So to be standing or squatting, and moving in different bodily planes — twisting while raking, reaching while pruning, moving my arms side to side instead of out in front — felt so welcome and rejuvenating.

It’s common to read stories in magazines and online suggesting that exercise doesn’t have to come in certain forms (i.e. biking, running, weight lifting). I was active today for 4 hours and the only thing that resembled traditional exercise was my walk.

The key is that I was moving and using my body for activity. And no matter how you go about it, it feels good afterward. Think outside the box when it comes to exercise. Movement is the point, no matter what form it comes in.

Sweet results

Mind over matter

Mind over matter

About two months ago (time flies!), I wrote about embarking on a sugar-free diet. At the time, I was only a few days in, but things were going swimmingly. The rest of the journey would prove to have some ups and downs.

The plan I followed was 21 days long. The first phase included only minimal sugar from natural sources like vegetables (no fruit allowed). The next phases re-introduced fruit, honey and processed whole grains, while the final phase allowed “treats” with a small amount of added sugar.

Some of what surprised me most over the course of the plan:

  • I didn’t crave what I expected to crave (ice cream, chocolate).
  • I didn’t miss what I expected to miss (Diet Coke, ice cream).
  • I gained a new appreciation for true whole grains (e.g. barley, quinoa, buckwheat). I already was a fan of quinoa but learned to use it in new recipes.
  • I discovered that a simple salad dressing of oil + lemon juice really is tasty and effective.
  • I was astonished at just how much sugar is found in some foods. Every once in a while, I like to have a chai latte from Starbucks. A medium (I can’t bring myself to use their sizing terminology) contains 43 g of sugar — or nearly 11 teaspoons! (The recommended max of added sugars a day for women is 6 teaspoons.) That was a sad realization but one that definitely made an impact.
  • IMG_1375A sugar source that you most crave might not be an “obvious” sugar like cake or chocolate. I discovered that the sugar I crave most comes in carbohydrate form — especially bread products. During the plan, I might have hurt someone for a slice of pizza or a sub sandwich on a nice chewy Italian roll. But a chocolate bar? Nah, no thanks.

So, as the plan went along, I was feeling GREAT.  I was wholly satisfied with the meals I ate — focusing on lean protein, unprocessed whole grains, produce, dairy and other foods in their natural state. I made sure to be prepared, cooking batches of quinoa, broiling chicken breasts and chopping veggies so I could throw meals together without much time to debate what to have. That enabled me to avoid eating something off-plan when in a pinch. Most of all, I felt even and stable. No indigestion or bloating or any similar issues. I felt clean and fueled and satisfied. I even successfully made it through a weekend away with my college roommate and our husbands at a baseball game in another city, early in the plan. (Though I do owe them a night out for drinks, because alcohol was not allowed in the first phase, and how can you visit with your college roommate without a toast or two?)

Midway through the 21 days, I’d lost some weight and I could feel the positive effects of this new eating plan. I was being proven wrong when it came to my skepticism.

And then I got cocky.

The last few days of the plan allowed you to eat a small treat each day, as a way to account for your added sugar allotment. The first couple days, I didn’t even have a treat. I confess that in part I was afraid to open the floodgates. But I also wasn’t really craving anything that badly (other than the aforementioned pizza).

That Friday night, I had a very small brownie sundae at a get-together. The next day, my husband and I set out for a weekend of bike riding. Our route would take us through some Jersey Shore towns known for pizza, so I made sure that our ride would coincide with a lunchtime stop. I reasoned that I’d count the pizza as my added sugar treat that day. I’d wanted to have a diet soda with the pizza (to me, they go together like mac and cheese) but the pizzeria we chose only offered Pepsi products, and I prefer Coke products, so I held out.

What was strange was that the pizza did not taste as good as I expected it to. It was a bit anticlimactic. Maybe I got a bum slice or two, I thought.

We went out for a seafood dinner that night. I had part of a fried tomatoes appetizer, drenched in marinara sauce. It sounded better than it was. And afterward we went for ice cream, and I had a small serving. Here came more rationalization: “I biked more than 30 miles today — I can cheat a little and overdo the sugar a bit.” I think because I was anticipating my first ice cream in 3 weeks of summer, I went a bit overboard, ordering a chocolate and peanut butter twist in a cup, with chocolate coating. (Rather than something simple, like plain vanilla, which might have been more satisfying.)

Again, though, it was anticlimactic and didn’t live up to expectations.

The next day we biked another 30+ miles. I had a couple more “cheats”: a white sandwich wrap, some french fries, a big Diet Coke. And now I started to feel like I was in the twilight zone — even the soda was not as fabulously enjoyable as I imagined it would be.

Early on Monday morning, I awoke feeling super bloated and just plain ugh. I got on the scale and couldn’t believe it. I was UP about 5 pounds from what I weighed before the weekend. Could my few “cheats” have had such a negative impact?

Long story short, it seems they did. Not only did I feel heavy and overstuffed but also sluggish and unmotivated. I couldn’t even blame the latter two effects on a weekend of bicycling because we were so conditioned from all our recent rides. I was super upset and disappointed in myself, feeling like it took me just a couple of days to completely unravel the previous weeks of doing so, so well on the plan.

As disheartened as I was, the lesson was invaluable. I couldn’t have asked for a more concrete illustration of how good it felt to eat so cleanly and with minimal added sugar. I immediately got back on track and within a few days felt great again.

Soon, I returned for my final weigh-in and was glad to find that the tide had turned. My total weight loss was more than 11 pounds. Along with that, I lost a total of 6.25 inches (arms, thighs, chest, waist, hips), with the most from my waist, which shrunk 1.75 inches.

In some ways, it’s crazy how great 11 pounds less can feel. On one hand, it doesn’t seem like a lot. But on the other, it makes me feel like a different person.

And speaking of a different person … I’ve changed in a lot of ways over the course of this endeavor, but I’ve stayed the same too. As great as I’ve felt on the plan, to be frank it’s still a struggle sometimes.

By far, the hardest part for me has been limiting myself to only one serving of processed whole grain a day. (That category includes cereal, bread, crackers, pasta.) For most of my life, I’ve been a cereal-for-breakfast and sandwich-for-lunch person. And even if I’m choosing a so-called healthy cereal like plain Cheerios or some form of Kashi, that’s still a serving of processed whole grain that contains added sugar. And even if I choose a whole wheat bread with zero or minimal added sugar, it’s still a serving of processed whole grain. Can’t have both now, so I’ve really had to adjust my typical menu. That’s still a work in progress. I also have to fight the mentality that if I’ve really adhered to the plan during most of the week, that I can balance out with some “cheats” on the weekend. That’s also still a work in progress.

So as time goes by, I’ll post more about my progress and my pitfalls. And I’ll remind myself how great I feel when all the pieces come together.