Smoky Chipotle Black Bean & Roasted Sweet Potato Tacos

Black Bean & Sweet Potato Tacos

There are some things that are just meant to go together.

Peanut butter and chocolate. Bagels and cream cheese. Yogurt and granola.

You get the point. They combine to make a perfect medley of texture and flavor, hitting all the notes that keep you coming back for more.

Black beans and sweet potatoes are a marriage made in heaven. I’ve featured several recipes with this glorious combination and as much as I wanted to try something different for this Meatless Monday, I decided to just go with it. Besides, I had it on hand and I was hungry.

Sweet Potatoes

Now, let’s talk about tacos. If you’re looking for something quick and easy to make while sticking to a budget, than tacos are your friend.

You can keep it light by using fresh produce that’s in season, nutrient-rich greens, and heart-healthy avocado. Also, be sure to pick corn tortillas over flour. They have fewer calories (about 90 cal each) and a great chewy texture. The bonus is that it’s gluten free for those of you following that diet.

With my key ingredients in mind, I chose to go with a black bean, mushroom, and red pepper saute that I spiced up with ground chipotle. Canned chipotles in adobo sauce would be a great addition if you have it on  hand. Just be mindful of the amount of adobo sauce you use, and make sure to remove the seeds of the peppers before adding them to your dish. Unless you like the kind of heat that makes your eyes water and underarms sweat, then by all means, have at it.

Roasting the sweet potatoes brings out their natural sweetness while the cayenne gives it an extra kick. The cabbage and cilantro gives a nice crunch with a bit of lemony tanginess to  contrast the sweet and smoky. Altogether, it’s a kick-butt combo.

The best part is that these tacos pack a nutritious punch:

  • Vitamin A and C in the sweet potatoes and red peppers help boost your immunity, vision, and provide cancer fighting antioxidants.
  • Fiber in the avocado and black beans not only keep you feeling full longer, but it also protects you from cardiovascular disease by lowering your cholesterol, along with many other health benefits.
  • A cup of cabbage yields about 80% of your vitamin K DV, which supports bone health and plays a key role in blood clotting.

Why go out for tacos when you can make this delicious and healthy option at home for a fraction of the cost? Makes sense to me.

INGREDIENTS

Serving 4, 2 tacos each

  • 1 can of black beans, rinsed
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup of diced bella mushrooms
  • 1 cup shredded cabbage
  • 1 Haas avocado, sliced
  • ½ red bell pepper, chopped
  • Bunch of fresh cilantro, cleaned and trimmed
  • 8 white corn tortillas
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil, separated
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp of naranja agria marinade (aka bitter orange or lime juice if unavailable)
  • 2 tsp of salt, separated
  • ½ tsp ground cayenne
  • 1 tsp ground chipotle powder
  • ½ tbsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a small rimmed baking sheet with foil, add sweet potatoes, 1 tbsp of oil, 1 tsp of salt, cayenne, and freshly ground black pepper; mix well. Place sheet in oven and bake for approx 20 minutes or until potatoes are golden and tender.

2. While potatoes are baking, heat remaining oil in a skillet over medium flame. Cook the minced garlic for 1-2 minutes, but be careful not to burn them otherwise you’ll end up with a bitter flavor! Add mushrooms and red peppers, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes. Once the veggies have softened, throw in the rinsed beans along with the paste, salt, chipotle, oregano, garlic powder, and black pepper. Mix everything together and allow it to cook for 8-10 minutes. About halfway through, add the bitter orange marinade (or lime juice). Remove from heat.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos

3. Now comes the fun part! Make sure you have all of your taco toppings ready on the side for easy prep. Turn on a burner to low-medium flame. Working with one tortilla at a time, carefully place it over the flame using tongs. Once you see the edges darken and it puffs up in the center, then flip it over. Cook each side for about 1-2 minutes. Place on serving plate.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos

4. Spoon about 1 tbsp of black bean and mushrooms, along with 1 tbsp of sweet potatoes on each tortilla. Top with sliced cabbage, avocado, and a small handful of cilantro. Squeeze a bit of lime juice on top if you have it, or just enjoy it as is.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos

I was a little hungry so I had three of these bad boys. How could I resist?

All that’s missing is a frozen margarita….but I’ll save that for another time. Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner after all.

What’s your favorite taco combination?

I’m always looking for something new, so please feel free to share your favorite recipes in the comments below or on FB and Twitter!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

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Thankful Thursday: Anger Isn’t Always Bad

Thankful Thursdays on Food4ThoughtNYC

“Criticism always seems to add inspiration to your pursuit of success. Strip away the anger and bias. And use the rest as fuel.”
-Dan Waldschmidt

 

 

 

I’m grateful for the anger this week. That statement might leave some of you confused.

How can she be happy that she was angry?  Isn’t anger bad?

You’re not wrong. Anger isn’t an emotion anyone should go for especially if your true intention is to live in harmony with yourself and the world around you.

But it’d be false to say that feeling anger doesn’t creep up from time to time. Life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to and our response to stressful situations really breaks down to biology: we go into survival mode, our bodies react by producing more cortisol, and our adrenaline picks up. In short, we become physically tense and that inevitably bleeds into our mental and emotional state. Anger is a natural byproduct of stress.

So why am I grateful for being angry this week?

There are times when we need a jolt to break us out of a monotony. Sometimes it’s a check in the ‘win’ column, with a promotion or a chance meeting with a new friend or partner that you truly click with. Other times it’s changing old habits and finding new hobbies or exploring interests so that you feel energized and motivated to meet challenges with optimism.

Then there are those times that you really just need a kick in the pants. Where the cycle you find your life in is so destructive and soul-crushing that you’re numb day in and day out.

I’ve been there for longer than I care to say, and for the first time in a very long time, I felt real anger. I allowed that emotion, all white-hot and fiery, to consume me for a little while this week as I metaphorically shook my fist at the world (really, I just turned my phone off and avoided people for a few days while I mentally cursed the universe).

Then the tide shifted and I found energy underneath all of that frustration. The intensity of my anger has dissipated to a simmer, but what I feel more than anything is a fierce need to change my circumstances. My drive has doubled and I’m attacking each day as an opportunity.

I’m not saying that anger is the answer. At its core, anger does more to limit us if you hold onto the grudge for too long. It’s also self-indulgent. We’re so focused on being pissed off at what’s going on within our heads, that we neglect to see the upsides happening all around us, all the time.

What’s important to realize is that we need to allow ourselves to experience what we’re going through from top to bottom. Do not dismiss any part of that because you think you should be more forgiving or that you should be positive always. Those are lofty goals and at the end of the day, we’re all human. Admit to yourself that you’re angry, and then ask yourself, why?

Being self-aware and honest opens so many doors down the road. I was honestly angry for so many reasons this week, but the great thing is that I was able to apply that constructively to resolve some of the conflicts I mentioned last week, in a way that was positive. How could I not be grateful for that?

Thankful Thursday Food4ThoughtNYC  4/10/14

How do you experience anger?

Does anger help you or harm you?

What are you thankful for this week?

Please feel free to share in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)
Posted in Gratitude Journal, My Stories, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using Technology to Aid in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

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I am thrilled to welcome back author and breast cancer survivor Patricia Dean-Escoto to talk about her exciting new app for newly diagnosed or recovering breast cancer patients.

I hosted Ms. Escoto a year ago during her book tour for Top Ten Superfoods for Preventing Breast Cancer where she shared her nutrition tips for prevention and treatment. I have long been an advocate in using sound nutrition practices as the first and most important step to wellness and good health. It was wonderful to have a professional express how much focusing on nutrition helped her through her health crisis.

The timing of her app with my increasing interest in the role of technology in changing the way we approach our health was a stroke of good luck. A community that can support and encourage you to better health has been proven to be a positive force in the prevention and treatment of a number of physical and mental health issues. The world of apps and digital devices offers us a unique opportunity to leverage our smartphones to create an online community that can offer life-saving support and resources at the touch of a button.

Ms. Escoto’s foray into this world is incredibly exciting and I’m very appreciative of her willingness to share this amazing development with all of you. Please read on for Ms. Escoto’s story and for more information about My Breast Cancer Advocate, where you can find it, and how to connect with Ms. Escoto. Enjoy!


Using Technology to Aid in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

My Breast Cancer Advocate(1)We all can use someone by our side at difficult times. Especially when it’s something we have never gone through before. That is what I needed eight years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cancer was new to me, I had never experienced it, even in terms of a relative, so I didn’t know what to expect or what questions I should ask. I listened as the myriad of doctors I would see spoke to me in language I didn’t understand. Basically, my mind was in a fog trying to grasp the impact of my diagnosis. It was difficult for me to take in all of the information I was receiving.
Fortunately, I had a staunch advocate right there with me the whole time, taking notes, writing down everything the doctor said to me, asking questions, and reassuring me every step of the way.

However, this is so not the case for thousands of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Often, they are alone, left to sift through the complicated waters of a dynamically changing environment when their main thought is just ‘how am I going to beat this thing’? Even now, I get calls from so many women, asking me what they should know, what questions they should ask before they go to their doctor.

These individuals inspired me to develop My Breast Cancer Advocate. An interactive app designed to assist newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. I wanted them to have a voice. I wanted them to be armed with as much knowledge as possible before they saw their doctor.

Testing, in cancer, is used for so many things. It’s used to determine stages, grade, and treatment options. It is a integral component of the process. My app explains all of this, along with common procedures and their associated side effects.

The side effects part is critical. I had a lumpectomy as part of my treatment, but I was unaware of the potential side effect of the procedure…lymphedema. Knowing this can help a person determine if they want to pursue a particular course of action. Other key features of the app include a glossary and the ability to set a calendar reminder.

But this is only half of what the app allows women to do. I’ve spent most of my adult life as an educator in one form or another. If there is anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that adults want to have a say in what’s happening to them. They want to have an active role in their own outcome; they want to be a partner in the process, particularly when it comes to their health.

In a large part, technology has amplified this feeling and it’s driving our need to connect with others. I had that same need and I saw it in others. These are key features I built into the app. Users not only can look up both traditional and holistic providers, but they can see the ratings of hospitals, find out their rights, connect with federal agencies, and get involved with organizations working to protect their health and the environment. But, more importantly, they can connect with each other via a dedicated blog that allows them to share their stories.

The blogging feature provides the user with an area to share information and to get information from other women who are going through the same thing. I see it as a place to unite and empower those diagnosed with breast cancer to ensure their voices are heard and they get the treatment they deserve.

About Patricia Dean-Escoto:

Patricia-Dean-Escoto-HeadshotPatricia Dean-Escoto is a certified nutrition consultant and breast cancer survivor.  Born in Montclair, New Jersey, she earned her master’s degree in Education from Capella University.  She has more than 20 years of experience working in both the field of education and healthcare.  In 2006, after being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, Patricia returned to school to study nutrition.  She is a graduate of Bauman College, where she earned her certification as a Nutrition Consultant.   Recently, she hosted a year-long radio show called Pathways to Healing on the Voice America network where she interviewed experts in the field of health and wellness.  She is author of ‘The Top Ten Superfoods for Preventing Breast Cancer‘ and a Certified Cancer Physical Trainer.  Her company, Pathways2healing, works exclusively with cancer patients in the area of nutrition and exercise.  She lectures both locally and nationally on the topic of nutrition and cancer prevention.

My Breast Cancer Advocate: 

My Breast Cancer Advocate® is an interactive tool designed to act as an advocate for newly diagnosed or recovering breast cancer patients. Users can navigate the tool to determine questions to ask their doctors, gain valuable information about tests and procedures, set reminders, locate holistic and allopathic healthcare practitioners, learn about their rights, and find out what organizations are doing about prevention and legislation as it relates to breast cancer. Additionally, users can share their stories with other survivors via a dedicated blog, their Twitter, or Facebook accounts. Finally, the app contains a comprehensive dictionary of commonly used terms.

 

The app contains the following screens:

1. Questions
2. Tests
3. Procedures
4. Remind Me
5. Healthcare Network
6. My Rights
7. Get Involved
8. Share my story
9. Common Terms

Social Links:

Where to Purchase:

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The Health Tracker Revolution is Here

Type “health trackers” into a Google search and you’ll get dozens of newly invented devices and apps all engineered to give you an array of options to help track your activity and health-related symptoms over time. Items like Google glass and Samsung’s smart watch were once considered so high-tech that they were deemed sci-fi, something Samsung understood with their tongue-in-cheek ad last year featuring clips from old sci-fi movies.

Talking into your wrist? A computer in your glasses? Embedded chips and DNA testing at your fingertips? It’s no wonder that despite the trendiness of fitness trackers like Fitbit and Nike Fuel, Americans are still by and large wary of some of the most cutting-edge devices making their way onto the health trackers market this year. Recent estimates show that at least one-sixth of American adults own one, with interest in either fitness or wellness tracking as their primary use. At least one-third of this group, however, lose interest in these devices within a year.

It may take some time for late-adopters of technology trends to discover the best ways to integrate this kind of self-tracking into their daily lives, but the point has been made. We are in the middle of a smartphone revolution and few can deny the impact this has already had on our understanding of health and the ways we communicate about health.

Patients are empowered now, more than ever, to take a proactive role in their personal health by learning how their body responds in certain situations, noting patterns, and speaking frankly with their physicians about their observations- an innovative approach to healthcare than does more to help the medical community understand health trends much more efficiently than ever before.

photo courtesy of www.liquidgrids.com

photo courtesy of http://www.liquidgrids.com

 

We are still learning more about how the role of health trackers in our lives will continue to mold a future where patient and doctor work more cohesively to tackle some of our biggest health issues. From obesity to asthma to pregnancy health, there are a number of applications that will aid patients in new, eye-opening ways. And we’re just scratching the surface.

Imagine what we could do with all of this data on the population level. How many lives could we change? How many lives could we potentially save?

There are loads of questions left to answer. Who will monitor this world and how? What about patient privacy concerns? How can we make this available to the poorest communities around the world who suffer from preventable disease on a daily basis?

My fascination with this world has grown exponentially in the last couple of months, especially as I’ve seen firsthand what some of these more innovative companies have in mind for global health with simple solutions that begin with a smartphone.

Tomorrow I will feature a guest writer who’s spoken on my blog in the past about her experience as a breast cancer survivor and how nutrition played a role in her rehabilitation. She is coming back to discuss how health tracking apps have been a beneficial resource for her clients.

This won’t be the last time you’ll hear me talk about this subject. I had an opportunity to try a FitBit, and my review is on its way. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts: What do you think about the health and fitness tracker trend? Do you own one? Do you use it?

Here are some fun infographics showing the rise of mobile health devices in the last year:

Smartphone Health Infographic

Wearable Tech Infographic

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in In the News, Nutrition and Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thankful Thursday: Love in Conflict

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“The point of living and of being an optimist is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come.” –Peter Ustinov
“Our wisdom comes from our experience, and our experience comes from our foolishness.” –Sacha Guitry

I once was asked how I balance my personal life with my public life. It was an odd question. Since I started blogging, I have been fairly open with the inner struggles I faced over the last few years. It was important to me to be authentic and honest with each post, and some of it has been cathartic in its own way.

But as I sat down to write out my gratitude journal for this week, I realized that there are many things I keep behind closed doors. I had one unspoken golden rule when it came to blogging: Don’t talk about your relationships. Especially conflicts.

It’s a sound policy. Keep those things personal and focus on the general issues that most people can relate to. Throw in a recipe here or there.  It’ll be fine.

Then I had to stop and ask myself: Is this really authentic? As someone who chooses to sit down week after week to share their gratitude, is it honest to ignore the struggles I face with others during my journey? Aren’t those conflicts an important factor in our personal growth and don’t they become learning experiences in and of themselves?

I’m in conflict from every angle: internally, with a partner, with a coworker, with family. It seems like I’m at odds with the universe these days and I’m left trying to figure out how to deal with it all.

I strive to be a good person in all aspects of my life. I take my relationships seriously and give myself over completely to the people I’ve come to love and trust over the years. In some ways, that’s been my fatal flaw. I’ve had people take advantage of my generosity because they knew that I would always be there, sticking it out because I told myself that I needed to, as a good friend or partner. It became an aspect of myself that I regarded as weak.

It took me a long time to understand that this wasn’t a weakness. Being a giver allows me to connect to people on a deeper level. I can share with them and empathize. Be a part of their lives in a profound way, even if it’s temporary. Those are the relationships worth giving myself over to and that’s not something I’m looking to change.

The part that I have learned, though, is that I need to manage my emotions with others, especially when I’m in conflict with them. And that brings me back to these past few weeks where it feels like there’s discord everywhere I turn. I’m figuring out how to apply the principles of gratitude and positive thinking to these situations and it feels like I’m failing miserably. So much so, that I’m breaking my golden rule and coming on here to talk about it out loud.

How do you manage your feelings and expectations of others, when they’re completely blocking you out? At what point do you stop putting yourself on the front lines of a daily barrage of hostility? What do you do when a loved one completely abandons you with no explanation and tells you to be patient when you try to figure out why?

I don’t have any answers right now, and it’s tough to find an upside when I feel like my heart keeps breaking over and over.

Then I was reminded of one truth that proves conflict doesn’t always mean the end of things. In my need to feel connected and a bit of love, I reached out to some friends who I’ve felt disconnected from lately. I broke down in tears yesterday when one of them listened as I went on and on about a work issue, and responded with, “I love you.” That’s all. And it was exactly the right thing to say.

I chided myself for losing sight of the bigger picture. Right now, it sucks. I don’t see the light. Things are still in patchy shades of grey. You can’t please everyone. And sometimes, people need to figure out what they’re doing on their own without input from the outside world. That means that I also have to be understanding that I can’t expect to fix everyone else’s problems. And even more importantly, I have to be mindful of how much I’m willing to give in conflict when the other person is giving me nothing.

Relationships are a give and take, and I’m still trying to find the balance between the two. I hope that the people in my life right now will stick around. It saddens me to think they might not. But at the end of the day, I can be grateful that I’m going at it constructively and with the intention for peace and love in my heart.

I’m not alone no matter how much I feel like I am.  And for that, I give thanks.

Gratitude Journal 4/3/14

 What are you grateful for today?

Please feel free to share below, or on Facebook and Twitter!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

 

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Meatless Monday: Quick & Easy Aloo Gobi

 Quick & Easy Aloo GobiNew York City is damn expensive. This isn’t breaking news to anyone really, but I thought I should point that out, given that I write a blog with “NYC” in the title and happen to live in the most expensive city in the US.

And that’s verified by the way. In a recent report, Manhattan came in as #1 in with a cost of living index of 225.4 against a national index average of 100.

Ouch.

Given the price tags that often make me blink twice or cause a sudden wave of nausea to wash over me, I find ways to get creative with saving a buck here and there. This is where my kitchen and I become best friends.

I’ve experimented plenty with various gluten-free and paleo recipes in the past year, and those were all fantastic. But sometimes that gets a bit pricey too. One of the things I love about Meatless Mondays is that it gives my wallet a break by encouraging me to shop for produce in season and avoiding expensive meat, especially since I tend to go for leaner, pricier cuts.

Quick & Easy Aloo Gobi

The upside to living in New York (yes, there’s a plus here too, even though this place makes me want to pull my hair out sometimes), is that given the close proximity to so many different cultures, I can often try cooking different cuisines because I have the ingredients handy.

So I thought I’d give my favorite Indian vegetarian dish a try; Aloo Gobi. It’s healthy, with nutritious additions like cauliflower and tomatoes; it’s hearty and filling; and it’s really, really delicious. :-)

I’m actually amazed at how easy this was to pull together, and also how fast. It was done in under 30 minutes! Plus the best part is that you can make a big batch, and have some leftover for a few days, which is great because the flavors really start to meld and intensify over time too.

Oh and in true budget cooking fashion, I was very pleased to see that this all came in at under $10. Do yourself a favor and invest in some spices. Some of them may cost a bit depending on what’s available in your area, but they’ll add so much depth to your dishes. It’s worth the cost in the longterm.

Quick & Easy Aloo Gobi

INGREDIENTS

serving 4; serving size, approx. 1 cup

  • ½  large cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 2 medium yukon potatoes, peeled and diced
  •  1 14.5oz can of diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • ½ large white onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp of ginger, peeled and minced
  • ½ bunch of cilantro, stalks chopped separately from leaves
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp chili powder (or chopped fresh green chilis if you prefer)
  •  1 tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • ½ tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • ¼ cup of water

DIRECTIONS

1. Melt coconut oil in a large non stick pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cumin seeds to the pan and cook until the onions soften and become translucent. Then add the turmeric, coriander, salt and chopped cilantro stems and mix well.

2. Add the tomatoes, garlic and ginger and cook with the onion mixture for a few minutes.

Quick & Easy Aloo Gobi3. Add the potatoes, cauliflower, and water. You want to be sure the veggies are coated in the curry sauce so mix everything together well. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover with a lid. Allow it to cook for approx. 20 minutes or until the cauliflower and potatoes are fork tender.

4. Remove lid and add garam masala and chopped cilantro leaves. Stir and taste for seasonings; adjust as necessary. Then you’re done!  Serve while warm.

Quick & Easy Aloo Gobi Quick & Easy Aloo Gobi

I served this alone with no trimmings, but this would be great with some fresh whole wheat naan or chapati bread, brown rice, or if you really love cauliflower, then go for cauliflower rice as well.

(Note: Recipe adapted from Chuck Darwin at Food.com)

What’s your favorite ethnic cuisine?

Do you have a vegetarian recipe to share?

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

 

 

Posted in Healthy Recipes, Latest Musings, Meatless Mondays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Happiness isn’t a Destination

Follow Your Bliss- Joseph Campbell

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Thankful Thursday: The Word Vomit

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Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.                                                          -Cheryl Strayed

I stood there, in front of the fridge, holding the door wide open, completely lost in thought. I forgot what I was looking for several minutes ago.  It wasn’t until the increasingly ripe romaine I’d left on the bottom shelf hit my nostrils (note to self: throw it away!), that I dropped my gaze and allowed my eyes to refocus on the contents on the fridge. Dinner? Oh right, dinner.

Dinner turned out to be a bowl of cereal with the almond milk my eyes landed on once I came out of my dream state. I just couldn’t be bothered.

I found myself thinking about where I’d gotten lost. Because that’s what it’s felt like lately. The world, as I knew it, had tilted. Up became down. Left became right. And I’ve been wobbling along trying to regain my center of gravity in an unknown, foggy landscape.

What do you do when change throws you off course? And I’m not just talking about changing jobs or changing an address. I’m talking about the heavy stuff. Like when you find that things that used to resonate with you down to the core, suddenly ring hollow? Or when the people you’ve grown close to, suddenly seem so far away? Or finding yourself in the other person’s shoes in a relationship?

Apparently, what I do is I stand in front of the fridge with my gym clothes on and stare at a carton of almond milk until my legs start to break out in goosebumps from the cold.

In all fairness, I’ve sidestepped a lot of these issues, allowing them to quietly churn the insides of my mind until it decided it needed more room to churn, and then it downshifted to my heart. That’s where I feel it; right there, smack dab in the middle of my chest. Pretty soon it’ll beat it’s way up my esophagus, through my throat, until it finds my larynx, and Opa! here comes the word vomit!

This may surprise you, lucky reader (s? maybe more than one of you will read this rambling post? maybe not?) , but I tend to bottle up a lot of what I’m feeling. Since I started blogging, and especially since I segued into the magical age of 30, I see the value in expressing what you feel in a way that’s both honest and constructive. That second word is key here, as I had no trouble expressing myself in the past, but usually with little thought given to how all that talk could actually lead to anything productive. But I make a conscious choice to work through the endless parade of perpetually conflicting ideas going through my brain at all hours of the day before I end up word vomiting all over you.

The problem is that I keep so much of it in that it usually ends pretty messy. I’m having a lot more of these stand-in-front-of-the-fridge-lost-in-la-la-land moments than I used to, and to be quite honest, it makes me want to shrug off the very notion of gratitude. What’s there to be grateful for when I can barely complete a simple task (dinner? oh right, dinner), without letting these huge questions about the changes in life bring me to the brink of….I dunno, is it the word vomit thing again or maybe it’s just tears? Maybe both? Sigh.

I begin way too many thoughts and conversations with that phrase, “I don’t know…” because that’s what this all boils down to in the end. I have no clue what I’m doing in any part of my life at least 99% of the time (I attribute the 1% to sleeping, which I believe I know how to do pretty well). Worse yet, I’ve lost the words to articulate exactly what it is I’m experiencing.

All you wise birds out there reading this (again, assuming anyone other than myself lays eyes on this thing), are probably clucking your tongues, going, “Oh, you’re just in it, and soon this won’t be so bad. Change happens, love, and you’ll learn to embrace it.” True. I can roll with that. In fact, I have been rolling with that, fairly bumpy road and all. But does it have to hurt so damn much?

Yes, I suppose it does. Change isn’t meant to be easy. Nor, I’d argue, are we really built for the emotional upheaval that comes with change, nevermind our inherent survival instincts. All that adrenaline fades at some point, and what you’re left with is a pile of unresolved issues that you dropped when you were running from one thing to the next. Maybe I’ve just been running for too long and it’s all catching up with me. Maybe I need to keep on running. I don’t know (Ah, there it is again).

So I ask, what is there to be grateful for? Ah all sort of things of course. But let me not pretend to pull a one-eighty here and tidy this all up with a nice little bow at the end. Things are far from tidy in my world these days.

I suppose what I can offer up to the universe right now is that I’m grateful for this. This moment. Or let me take it one step further. Every single moment I’ve found myself standing in front of a fridge, or mid-step to my bedroom, or at the crosswalk waiting for the light to change, or at my desk with blurred eyes staring at my computer screen. Each of those moments are packed with introspection; a quiet observation of who I am and where I am.

Some of those moments carry the lightness of wonder and imagination where I transport myself beyond the limits of my circumstances,where I dare to color outside of the box. Other moments bring me to the dark corners that force me to bend to the will of fear and self-doubt. And then there are those incredible moments where all I feel is the warm embrace of love and hope in a more peaceful existence, not just for myself but for the world around me.

The mind and the heart are tricky things. We carry a world of lies and truths in both, each and every single day and sometimes it’s a struggle to suss out which is which as changes happen and our paths branch out. What I’ll continue to tell myself and maybe you, lucky reader (s?) can also find helpful, is that it’s okay to feel that burden sometimes. Allow yourself to go through it and do what needs to be done to let it out in a way that’s going to make you stronger in the end.

Thank you for reading. And uh…sorry for word vomiting all over you.

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Have something to be thankful for? Or maybe a comment you’d like to share? Feel free to post them in the comments below or go ahead and post on FB or Twitter. Whatever floats your boat.

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy. :-)

Posted in Gratitude Journal, My Stories | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Light and Creamy Potato Leek Soup with Roasted Cabbage

Light & Creamy Potato Leek Soup with Roasted Cabbage

Tapping the microphone.

Shaking the dust off my favorite pretty apron.

Clearing the throat. Ahem. AHEM!

Yes, I am still here!!

After a very long winter hiatus, I am back on the blog with a brand new recipe for my favorite day: Meatless Monday!

And while there isn’t a mic, there is a camera. Yes, an actual video camera helmed by my brother who chose me as the subject for his video documentary project for school.

Look ma..no hands!

So under the bright and glaring lights of the…uh tiny handheld camera, I awkwardly walked through this recipe for the one person who will watch this video (okay maybe two assuming my brother’s teacher actually sits through the whole thing) and put together a delicious meal. Altogether, not a bad way to get back into the food blogging game.

More to the point, this soup. This light and creamy Potato Leek soup is really exactly as advertised. And the roasted cabbage? A nice touch if I do say so myself.

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day which gave me an opportunity to do something a bit different while celebrating the holiday the proper way- sharing a pint of Guinness with someone dressed as a leprechaun with Irish food!

Corned beef, boiled potatoes, and cabbage never appealed to me plus it all seemed a bit obvious. Instead, I went for something simple, tasty, and quick while using quintessential Irish ingredients. The best part is I was able to make this whole meal for under $10. Save that pot of gold for something else..er..okay, and I’m done with silly St. Patty’s Day jokes.

A couple of notes before I get started with the recipe sharing business:

  • This is my first time cooking with leeks, but I was forewarned of the extra work involved. Leeks are veritable dirt traps so be sure to clean them properly before you use them in this or any recipe.
  • I couldn’t stand cabbage up until about a year ago. That was until I learned that cabbage could be absolutely wonderful if cooked with the right ingredients. I’d only ever had it raw in salads or cole slaw and it was usually too bitter for my tastebuds. Roasting them seemed a genius move and so simple. Plus they taste AH-MAZING!!!!
  • This recipe can be adapted for vegans by simply eliminating the sour cream. I actually debated this myself when I saw just how creamy the soup was after the vegetables were pureed. The sour cream adds another layer of richness without being overwhelming, but the soup was wonderful without it.
  • You’ll note the color of the soup is a little darker than normal. The vegetable stock I bought was tomato-based which I didn’t realize until I poured it out of the carton. This didn’t affect the flavor of the soup in a bad way, but just a heads up if you’re wondering why the shade seems off.

Now I normally include a nutrition factoids section in here, but I’m doing things a bit differently this time. Needless to say, my raison d’être remains the same: healthy cooking that doesn’t require a lot of fuss and is delicious. I think I accomplished that pretty well in my first pre-Spring go in the kitchen. :-)

INGREDIENTS

Servings 6-8 people

Serving size, approx 1 cup

Soup

  • 2 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and sliced (white and pale green parts only!)
  • 4-5 medium-sized yukon potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • Salt and pepper

Roasted Cabbage

  • 1 medium sized cabbage, 1″ thick slices
  • Olive Oil Spray (or 2 tsps olive oil)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp herbes de Provence

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Prepare all vegetables by peeling, rinsing, and chopping as necessary. Preheat oven to 400°F.

Light & Creamy Potato Leek Soup with Roasted Cabbage Light & Creamy Potato Leek Soup with Roasted Cabbage

2. Heat oil in a large pot or dutch-oven and add onions, garlic and leeks once hot. Cook at medium-heat for about 10 minutes or until onions are soft and translucent. DO NOT BROWN THE LEEKS!

3. Add the potatoes, stock, thyme, and salt and pepper to the onions. Stir everything together and reduce heat to a simmer. Place the lid and allow it to cook for about 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Allow it to cool for 10 minutes.

4. While the soup is simmering, prepare cabbage on an oiled rimmed baking sheet and season both sides. Place in 400°F oven and cook for 40 minutes, flipping them over halfway through. Remove from oven once they’re caramelized and brown on the edges.

Light & Creamy Potato Leek Soup with Roasted Cabbage

5. Working in batches, carefully place soup in a blender (or food processor), filling it halfway. Do not seal completely, remove the plastic nozzle in the middle and cover with a kitchen towel. Pulse it for several seconds about 3 times before pureeing it completely. Do this for each batch and place the soup in a separate pot.

Light & Creamy Potato Leek Soup with Roasted Cabbage

6. Turn the heat on to low and stir pureed soup for several minutes. If you’re going for a vegan version of this dish then you’re done! If not then add the sour cream and continue stirring until it’s completely incorporated. Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary.

7. Serve up a bowl of soup with several pieces of roasted cabbage. Garnish with chopped spring onions. Done!

Light & Creamy Potato Leek Soup with Roasted Cabbage

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. I’ve slowly been making my way back into the kitchen, experimenting with new dishes and finding some of that creativity with food that I enjoy so much. This time I managed to get it on camera and onto this blog to share it with all of you, and I couldn’t be happier.

If you tried the recipe, let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions below or on Facebook and Twitter!

recipe adapted from Eating Well magazine

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Healthy Recipes, Latest Musings, Meatless Mondays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thankful Thursday: Level Up!

imageLevel up your life. Wise words from Steve of Nerd Fitness, a crazy awesome website I used to follow religiously for fitness inspiration and tips. (The guy uses Legos to animate his posts for crying out loud!)

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of Steve and his call to level up every aspect of your life. His words hit me hard this morning as I sat down to write my journal and put my experiences this past week into words.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet since I have a mile-long to-do list and a ticking clock chaining me to my desk. Oy.

I’ve had loads of hard days mixed with some good in the past few months, but what’s made this week stand out for me are the new mental and physical challenges I’ve faced. I went to my first Soul Cycle class a week ago and yesterday, my trainer had me try single-armed jerks with kettlebells and dumbbells for the first time.

I’ve been training continuously for over a year with periods of intense focus and learning. But it’s been a while since I’ve felt completely out of my element in the gym, and I missed that terribly. Making the decision to be more active in my life by committing myself to regular exercise was a life-changing choice. Choosing to add a trainer not only reunited me with an incredible friend but took my fitness to the next level by introducing weight lifting and eventually power lifting to my routine.

Now I find myself on a new plateau looking for new adventures, and I’ve had the good fortune to begin exploring that this week. Maybe I won’t spin all the time and it’ll take time for me to get the jerk form down, but I’m out there giving it a shot, no matter how ridiculous I look (which is to say I look very ridiculous).

Check that off the list.

The social media challenges have been leveled up from what I’ve been doing this past year with Food4ThoughtNYC. I’d tweet here or post on Facebook there, but I never really got into the nitty-gritty of what social media could mean for my personal enrichment and my professional career.

I’ve had the incredible fortune of exploring that avenue as an intern for an extraordinary startup (more on this soon) based here in New York. It’s taken a lot of hard work and focus, and there are times when the amount of work involved with social media engagements seems insurmountable. But there’s this tremendous feeling of excitement too. The amount of information out there defies logic sometimes, but I’ve learned SO much these past few weeks about so many different ways we’re changing as a society. The landscape is constantly evolving and all of our actions contribute to that mural, each and every single day. It’s kind of insane but really inspiring at the same time.

My landscape is evolving too. Some parts of my life remain the same, and I’m striving to change them however possible. But I feel a significant shift happening in how I approach the world around me. I have a greater appreciation for the little moments because sometimes I can see how they’re adding up to create another world of possibilities for me, and that’s pretty amazing.

Take it from Steve. Level up your life every single day. Challenge yourselves to do one thing differently. You’ve got this one life to live. So do it already.

Oh, and PS- Cafe Bustelo is the best coffee on the planet. I’m just sayin’.

imageWhat are you thankful for this week? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy. :-)

Posted in Gratitude Journal, My Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Day I Fell in Love with Soul Cycle

Soul Cycle NYC review

Let me begin with an admission: I have never gone to a spinning class. I’ll take it one step further and say that I don’t get on any bikes at all, stationary or not. You’ll usually find me by a squat rack or bench press in the weight room, powerlifting my way through a workout. Spinning, like many other cardio-intensive classes, just never called out to me. I prefer to lift heavy and workout alone. That’s just me.

I’ve spent the last couple of years listening to people wax poetic about the amazing workouts they’ve had at Soul Cycle, the premier spinning studio in New York City (with additional studios in California and most of New England). The trainers, their heart-pumping music playlists, and the party-like atmosphere were among the most popular comments I heard from Soul Cycle devotees. It all sounded pretty great, but I wasn’t convinced.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year and I found myself reconsidering my strict strength-training routine in favor of new fitness challenges, especially the fast-paced, heart-pumping kind. I took the ongoing construction of a spin studio in my gym as a sign that maybe I should broaden my horizons, namely on a bike.

Soul Cycle: me and you? A date? Okay, let’s go for it!

My first stop was on Soul Cycle’s website to pick my class and to find an instructor. Instead of offering a typical membership plan with monthly or annual coverage, Soul Cycle has a pay-as-you-go model with an option to pre-purchase any number of classes you want. The only fine print is that you must use those classes within a certain amount of time. Just keep that in mind, if you decide to buy several classes at once.

After spending a few hours perusing Soul Cycle’s excellent website and reading online reviews, I decided to pick Akin as my instructor. Each instructor gets their own page with a running feed of their social media networks and a current playlist of their favorite music. I like to know what I’m getting into before I sign up for anything, especially if it’s fitness related, so I really enjoyed the fact that I could compare different instructors to figure out who would be a good fit. Akin had a lot of thumbs up from both beginners and advanced spinners, and his mix of hip-hop, r&b, and pop was right up my musical alley. I suggest you take some time to do this for yourself. You also get to pick which bike you want to reserve, so if you want to hide out in the back, sit next to a friend, or burn it up with the pros up front, you have that option.

Arriving late to a Soul Cycle class should be avoided, especially if it’s your first time. I got to the studio with about ten minutes to spare and I wish I had some more time to get settled. The front desk staff was very friendly and efficient, even offering me a complimentary water for class. Once I signed off on the forms and picked up my shoes, I headed to the locker room to store my stuff. The studio itself is beautifully designed with the white, yellow, and black theme running throughout the space. The locker room was fairly small and co-ed, although there are separate bathroom facilities for men and women if you prefer to change in privacy. No need for a lock either. Each locker has its own digital lock that you can configure with your own code.

Once my stuff was safely stored, I ran upstairs and put my shoes on outside the doors. I didn’t understand the need for a rental until I got to the studio. Each shoe has a special clamp that locks onto the pedals. This ensures your stability and keeps you safely on the bike as you transition from one move to the next. I didn’t really get it at first but I quickly saw the need for this as the class got started and silently thanked the genius who thought of this little invention. That said, it should be noted that the shoe rental is required for each class. First rental is free, thereafter rentals are $3.

Note: Let me get this out of the way now: Soul Cycle is pricey. It’s $20 for your first class, $34 thereafter. That’s a bit of a splurge, especially if you’re a New Yorker trying to balance a limited budget. Then again, I know people dropping hundreds of dollars on Crossfit boxes and personal trainers, so to each their own. I say this now to cover my bases, but let me tell you about my class before you write it off completely.

If it’s your first time at Soul Cycle, be sure to inform one of the staff so that they can help you get set up. They adjust the set height, ask about lower back issues, and explain how to lock your shoe on the pedals. There are small two-pound hand weights located underneath the seat and a knob that increases or decreases resistance by the handlebars. The class was completely full and the music was already streaming out of the speakers. It’s a bit cramped with each rider within inches of each other in the dimly lit room, but already there was a lot of buzzing energy coursing through the studio.

The doors close and the class starts at a running sprint. With the music pumping and my fellow riders spinning their wheels like maniacs, I felt a bit overwhelmed within the first five minutes. It gets hot, fast, and then to make matters worse, my towel fell to the ground with no easy way for me to pick it up. I had to leave it behind and just keep moving. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to dress appropriately, with a loose cotton tank and lightweight tights. This is NOT the class to wear sweats and a hoodie, Just a tip.

I’m not going to lie. I consider myself pretty fit so I thought I’d handle this class like a boss pretty well. It’s just a bike right? And I’ve got rhythm. I can dance. What’s so hard about doing a little shimmy to some awesome music while pedaling? I just squatted 125lbs the week before, so really, how could this be that tough?

This is where the date got kind of ugly.

You could tell who’s done this before as they expertly wove their bodies on the bike from side to side. I, on the other hand, spent most of my time trying to figure out how to move without losing pace on the pedals. Within the first fifteen minutes I thought there was no way I could ever get it and that this would be my first and last spinning experience. My heart was in my throat and my legs felt like they were on fire. I slammed headfirst into a wall and wanted nothing more than to collect my abandoned towel off the ground, wipe off the sweat, and head home with my tail between my legs.

I have to give a lot of credit to Akin. He led the charge with motivating speeches, encouraging us to let out great big yells to help release the tension. I’m a big believer in energy transference- sounds new-agey but I think that the tone of a room can be greatly influenced by the people in it, and that studio was no exception.

My bike was smack dab in the center, so I got to see all the riders around me, whenever I was able to tear my eyes away without losing my balance. Some were rocking it out, dancing like their lives depended on it. Others were just like me, figuring out their pace and struggling to get their coordination down. But the really awesome thing is that ALL of us were into it. There were no bored expressions and you got the sense that everyone was pushing it to the max throughout the workout.

Then came the breakthrough. Maybe it was Akin’s encouragement to dig a little deeper to beat back our fears that roused a familiar sensation deep inside. I am very familiar with the self-defeating talk that kept me from exercising so many times before. The person I am now, who embraces fitness and healthy living as a lifestyle, took years of soul-searching and half-hearted attempts at changing my habits.

Suddenly I found myself actually smiling. I even closed my eyes and let the rhythm wash over me, as silly as that sounds. I realized that it was a little ridiculous to walk in there expecting to be an expert without ever having tried it before. Even the 2lb weights I sneered at when he pulled them out during the workout, kicked my butt. I was utterly humbled.

 I’d forgotten what it was like to be truly challenged during a workout. Powerlifting is not easy, but sometimes I get caught up in the routine of it all, mentally checking out along the way. Switching it up with an intense spinning class woke me up and got me truly jazzed about making it through the class. I felt proud of myself, which I hadn’t realized I’d been missing.

I can thank Akin and Soul Cycle for shaking me out of my fitness rut and reminding me that how important it is to test my boundaries.

That’s one of the reasons I started working out in the first place: to fall in love with how much my body is capable of, even when my head tries to throw me off stride.

Not too shabby for a first date. Trust me, I’ve had worse.

What did I take away from my date and what tips can I give you? Check your ego at the door. And please don’t drop your towel on the floor. You’ll need it.

Here’s more info on Soul Cycle and the studio I visited:

Soul Cycle Tribeca, 103 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007
Classes: 1st class $20; Each class thereafter $34
Shoe Rentals: 1st class FREE; Rentals thereafter $3
www.soul-cycle.com
 

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy. :-)

Posted in Fitness Tips, Latest Musings, Running and Cardio | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Thankful Thursdays: No (Wo)Man is an Island

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Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying,

“I will try again tomorrow.”

- Mary Anne Radmacher

 

 

It’s impossible to go through life without taking others into consideration. In the wise words of John Donne, ‘no man is an island.’ As much as I’d like to consider myself a trailblazer, walking down the road of life alone, without stopping to muse on what others might think about me, I’m human. I can’t help but wonder how the world perceives me.

Don’t compromise who you are and what you’re doing for the sake of others. That’s usually the advice I get when I start to get bogged down by negative thoughts. My confidence takes a nosedive and I find myself frozen, too scared to move forward or back because I worry about what my peers might think.

I’m a failure. My writing is terrible. I’m lazy. If I gain weight, I’ll be alone. Wasted potential. No substance….Loser.

Terrible line of thinking, isn’t it?

The reality is that when we preoccupy ourselves with what we think others are thinking about us, what we’re really doing is cutting ourselves down all on our own. We allow our fears to bully us into dark corners where we’re left powerless and immobilized. And the worst part is that it’s all our own doing.

I realize how depressing this sounds. Trust me, my goal is not to come here each week and be a downer for all of you. But it was important for me to reflect on some of the challenges I still experience  on my journey to wellness. It was a particularly dark week for me as I struggled past some of my deepest insecurities. 2014 hasn’t been very kind to me so far, and I’m often choosing between two difficult and unsavory options on an ongoing basis. And I imagine that many of you are in similar struggles.

We can be independent and driven as we strive to reach our goals, but it’s naive to think that we can block out the world in the process. Everything we do ripples out and affects those around us whether we realize it or not. Even when I’m feeling at my lowest and I’ve hidden myself away, I’m putting out an energy and that impacts my environment, for better or worse.

I’m grateful that when I have those days when all I’m doing is questioning all that I am, I can manage to look out and see love around me. Those moments offer an extraordinary opportunity to recalibrate. It’s a sucky process, no doubt about it. But a necessary one.

Take it one step at a time and forgive yourself for the little stumbles along the way. Don’t be scared to ask the hard questions and don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the answers right away. I know I forget that sometimes and that’s alright. We’ve all been there.

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What do you do to get yourself out of a funk?

What are you grateful for this week? Please feel free to share!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Gratitude Journal, Latest Musings, My Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Experiencing Orthorexia: One Year Later

wpid-textgram_1393418126.pngIt’s been a year since I sat down to write about my personal experience with disordered eating. I had just come off a miserable attempt at the paleo diet where I lost more than just weight. My inability to distinguish between a healthy awareness of what I was eating and an unhealthy obsession with every item of food that I purchased, led me into a downward spiral. It took time and the effort of good friends to pull me out of that wretched cycle, until I was finally able to see the harm I was doing.

I’ve since accepted that my relationship with food is complex. I have certain triggers that lie beneath the surface and sometimes they’re tripped whether I realize it or not. What helped me was learning more about my behavior and speaking out about it any way that I could. Luckily I had this platform to get the word out there about orthorexia, an eating disorder that I didn’t even know existed until I saw a lot of the symptoms match up with my habits. It was vital for me to share this information in the hope that someone out there would find it beneficial for themselves or for a loved one.

And so I’m back here to share this story again, for this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week running from February 23rd through March 1st. I continue to have my ups and downs, but the breakthrough I made last year helped me to find strength in expressing these thoughts to those I trust most, before they lead to unhealthy behaviors down the road.

If you’re experiencing difficulties in your relationship with food or body image, I urge you to please seek help from a trusted friend, family member, and most importantly a health professional. I know how hard it is to admit those thoughts to yourself, let alone to someone else who may not understand where you’re coming from. Speaking out about it is the all-important first step to healing and recovery. Wishing you good health!

What is Orthorexia? The Thin Line Between Healthy Eating and Unhealthy Obsession

Upon hearing the words “eating disorder,” it’s likely the images of an emaciated woman refusing food or another taking frequent trips to the bathroom to throw up are conjured.

We’re familiar with anorexia nervosa and bulimia through films, television shows, health class, or magazines. Modern technology now provides a new platform for these diseases with the creation of sites and profiles dedicated to ‘Anas,’ ‘Mias,’  and thinspiration ideals. Just do a quick search of these terms with a hashtag on Twitter and  you’ll see endless pages expressing the war with food out of a desperate need to be thin, raging daily.

You may know someone personally who’s facing their own battle with eating disorders and struggle with the obsessive addiction to be thin. Or maybe you’ve been down this road yourself.

However you’ve encountered eating disorders (ED) in the past, most people have heard of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating in some context. Given the overwhelming statistics of ED related health concerns and the media coverage utilized to help educate the public about these disorders, its become part of our modern social discourse. Despite that awareness, many people become afflicted with anxiety and some form of disordered eating, especially within our environment that often provides conflicting ideas about food and health.

There are eating disorders aside from anorexia and bulemia that are relatively unknown but share the same foundation of obsessive control of food for the purposes of weight loss or management to the point of addiction. I had my eyes opened forcefully late last year when I discovered one form of ED that I’d never heard of before but would never forget: orthorexia.

I recently told a story about my experiment with the Paleo diet and how it triggered some of my negative behavior with food that I thought I’d overcome. It was during this time that I discovered orthorexia.

I was at work going through my news feed and came across this article from Runner’s World that grabbed my attention. It spoke about how a fixation on eating healthy, organic foods can sometimes cross a line when you become obsessed with the need to be absolutely “pure” in all of your food choices. I felt that the description of this disorder fit me like a glove, and so I did what I normally do while reading health articles: I self-diagnose and freak out.

Everything about this disorder seemed to make sense to me since I was in the throes of a diet crisis that hadn’t even reached its peak yet. My breakdown wasn’t due for a couple of months, but I’d already sensed something was off in my gut.

The idea that you could take something perfectly healthy like eliminating processed foods from your diet or reducing your sugar intake and pervert it by ruthlessly examining every item of food that crosses your lips to determine if it passes your own high standard of healthiness didn’t seem far-fetched to me. It’s this kind of obsessive analysis that goes on in my mind all of the time about everything, especially food when I don’t keep it in check, which I wasn’t last year.

I think what eventually forced me to admit that something was wrong was my level of anxiety. I couldn’t just get home and throw dinner together or quickly pick up lunch during the day. I had to painstakingly plan my meals out ahead of time and think through each item on my grocery list to see if it passed my personal ‘approved list’ of foods that I could eat. What was supposed to be a simple diet turned into a nightmarish process. And worse yet, I’d still experience guilt if I wasn’t committed 100% of the time or ‘cheated’ on one meal. How could I not see the similarities?

Courtesy: Athleanx

Courtesy: Athleanx.com

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, orthorexia nervosa  is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating to the point that ‘purity’ becomes the goal and foods deemed impure are completely eliminated. The emphasis is more on quality than quantity and orthorexics go to extreme lengths to fiercely maintain a diet as natural and clean as possible.

Our nation is in the midst of a national health crisis with regard to the rates obesity and its associated health risks that constantly play out in the media on a daily basis. The focus on leading healthy lifestyles along with a movement towards going green with organic products and cutting out processed foods to be replaced by natural, all blend together to create a perfect storm for those susceptible to obsessive behaviors surrounding food. The sad irony is that in an effort to embrace a positive lifestyle change, some adopt worse habits that can be devastating and difficult to overcome.

Erin Sund wrote about orthorexia for AND and spoke with Dr. Marjorie Nolan about the disorder:

“Orthorexia starts out with a true intention of wanting to be healthier, but it’s taken to an extreme,” says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Marjorie Nolan, MS, RD, CDN, ACSM-HFS, who specializes in working with eating disorder clients. “If someone is orthorexic, they typically avoid anything processed, like white flour or sugar. A food is virtually untouchable unless it’s certified organic or a whole food. Even something like whole-grain bread – which is a very healthy, high-fiber food – is off limits because it’s been processed in some way.”

Although orthorexia is not officially recognized by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders),  it is quickly becoming accepted as a new form of disordered eating that has similar effects on both the physical and mental health of those afflicted as anorexia and bulimia.

I am not a licensed professional nor a registered member of the APA or the AND. But I am an expert in me and what I’ve gone through personally with relation to food, and the point here is that any kind of obsessive behavior where you’re spending more time thinking about the food and its components and less time actually enjoying the meal, is not a good thing.

Initially, I found the very existence of a term that described my food issues satisfying with an immediate sense of relief as if I’d been “figured out.” There’s a name to what I’ve been experiencing and that makes all of this okay, I thought.

The fact is, no it really doesn’t make it okay. Giving it a name helps bring it out of the closet and raises awareness to others out there who might not realize that its unhealthy to be so excruciatingly detailed in their thought process about what’s on their plates. But that’s just step one and it’s harder to land on step two.

I don’t know if I’m orthorexic or if anything I’m going through qualifies as a classifiable disorder and really, I couldn’t care less. Tagging it as one thing or another doesn’t take away from the fact that I still have too many thoughts about food which make some decisions that are simple for others much harder for me. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you, but that’s where I am.

I’ve made a commitment to leading a healthy lifestyle and I believe I’m capable of approaching food with a positive frame of mind. What makes a difference for me is allowing myself to speak openly about my challenges and shed light on those dark corners so that I can stay on the right side of the line. I don’t think having a passion for healthy eating and living is a bad thing and it’s something I’m continually trying to understand each day.

The benefit I found from discovering orthorexia is that it opened my eyes to the negative habits I developed and it helped me begin a process of forgiveness and healing. I was able to acknowledge that it was real and that I wasn’t the only one with this kind of pressure. It’s all about choices and being honest with yourself about your intentions. That’s the power of knowledge and that’s my goal with this blog.

In an effort to keep that going and to share information that I think is vital for everyone to know, here is an infographic created by the non-profit National Eating Disorders Association who recently sponsored National Eating Disorders week February 24 through March 2nd. It was a massive campaign to help educate the public on the impact of eating disorders and learn more about services available for those in need of support and professional help. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) is another amazing resource if you’d like more information.

Courtesy: NEDAwareness

Courtesy: NEDAwareness

Courtesy: NEDAwareness

Courtesy: NEDAwareness

I am always staggered by the statistics for ED. It reminds me that these disorders afflict people of all backgrounds, races, and genders.  Shed any limited thoughts you might have about the face of ED and consider that it’s an issue that affects people from so many different walks of life.

Have you experienced similar anxiety about food and healthy eating? What do you think about classifying orthorexia as an eating disorder and treating it as a disease? Share your thoughts! I’m curious.

As always, keep paying it forward, now and always. Stay healthy. :-)

Posted in Body Image, Featured Favorites, Latest Musings, Nutrition and Health, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thankful Thursdays: It Works on Friday Too

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So, I’m a day late.  But guess what? Expressing gratitude works on Friday just as much as it does on Thursday. Hell, it works any day of the week. You’ll still get those happiness points if you stop to say thanks for all the little moments that make life truly special.

That said, let’s move on to the nitty gritty. Here’s what I’m thankful for:

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The Value of Honesty

That last point about honesty has become a major turning point in some of the relationships that are taking shape in my life. It seems a bit unnecessary to point out the importance of honesty because I think it’s safe to say that’s a quality we expect from all the people we embrace as friends or partners.

But how often are you truly open about what you’re feeling, especially when it turns out that feeling isn’t on the happier end of the spectrum?

The vulnerability and fear that comes with sharing some of those more difficult emotions have often led me to keep others at bay. For all of my self-awareness, I am more likely to stay tight-lipped about the things that make me upset, simply because it’s easier than fully confronting the issue head on.

This is changing. I’m beginning to see that closing myself off in this way has caused me more harm than good over the years. The really awesome part here is that I’ve managed to speak my mind in ways that are both healing and constructive, which has yielded some amazing changes in my personal relationships.

I have no clue what the future holds. None of us do. But for now, I can say with a bit of certainty, that the future can be a much brighter place if you make it a point to stay (constructively!) honest not only with yourself, but with those around you.

Been Around the World

Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.

-Gustave Flaubert

I spent a good chunk of last week catching up on old episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations I never got around to watching when the show was still on air. There’s something about the combination of Bourdain’s sarcastic wit, smart commentary, beautiful cinematography, and mouth-watering meals that makes my heart sing, each and every time I watch that show.

My wanderlust was stirred. Badly. I’m usually spending this part of the year planning my next big trip to somewhere new. This is the first year in as long as I can remember that I do not have a trip on my agenda.

Sadness does not even cover it.

But in the middle of watching Bourdain sip his caipirinha on Ipanema beach in Rio, I realized that I’ve been a lucky duck when it comes to travel. I’ve spent the last 13 years exploring whenever I could with whatever resources I had because there is SO much of this world that I want to see.

No matter how far down in the dumps I go, or how difficult this part of my journey seems to be, I can always turn to these travel experiences as a reminder of just how fortunate I’ve been to see such incredible sights.

So in an effort to keep the gratitude going and keep my spirits lifted, I decided to go back and take a look at some of these glorious moments. Then I thought I’d share them here too. There’s nothing like a photo to help transport you away from the here and now. Enjoy!

What are you thankful for this week?

Feel free to share your thoughts below!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Gratitude Journal, Latest Musings, My Stories, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thankful Thursday: Keep it Simple

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I was this close to not sharing my journal this week. Then I decided to keep it simple.

Given how it’s the only thing I’m posting these days (yes, I’m perfectly aware that I’ve been a bit off target with my articles of late), I have no excuse. None.

And really, keeping this journal has been one of the few things to keep me tethered to that divine energy I have inside of me. I forget it’s there sometimes. The ins and outs of each day with the challenges that keep me up late into the night are enough to make me stop in my tracks and forget about thanking anyone for anything.

 

Then I remember how awesome I feel just seeing this little graphic each week highlighting the things that put a smile on my face. You guys can’t see what I see when I reflect back on those moments, but I hope I can convey how they make me feel , especially because each of these things were lifesavers.

That’s the thing about choosing to live life mindfully with your eyes open. Sometimes there’s so much to see, some of it difficult and painful,  that all you want to do is shut out the world and run away.  And other times, the littlest thing is enough to make you laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of it all.

Hence my Doctor Who reference. Raise your hand if you’re a fellow Whovian! High five friend!

I hope everyone on the East coast experiencing storm #2901783978497369 this winter season is somewhere warm and safe surrounded by blankets and (healthy) snacks. Remember, sharing is caring.

If you’re looking to get on the joy train, tell me, what are you thankful for this week?

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As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

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Go Red for Women’s Heart Health

Don’t save that red dress for Valentine’s day. Flaunt that color today, National Wear Red Day to help raise awareness about women’s heart health as part of the National Heart Health initiative by the American Heart Association this month.

You may not realize it, but heart disease is not just a problem for men. Take a look at this graphic below, courtesy of the American Heart Association:

High cholesterol, family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity are all contributors that increase your risk for heart health problems, in both men and women. But what makes women susceptible than men?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk factors for heart disease vary from men on these points:

  • Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
  • Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you’re having symptoms of depression.
  • Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
  • Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels (small vessel heart disease).

Latinas are at an even greater risk for heart disease than their white counterparts. Higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and inactivity within the Latino community increase the likelihood of poor heart health and may lead to disease.

The American Heart Association shared these facts with me:

Facts You Didn’t Know About Latinas and Heart Disease

o   Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women.

o   Only 1 in 3 Hispanic women are aware that heart disease is their No. 1 killer.

o   Only 3 in 10 Hispanic women say they have been informed that they are at a higher risk.

o   Only 1 in 4 Hispanic women is aware of treatment options.

o   Hispanic women are more likely to take preventive actions for their family when it comes to heart health.

It is absolutely crucial that you take your heart health seriously, now more than ever. Wearing red today is one way to raise awareness in your community, but how can you take a step towards reducing your risk of heart disease?

There are 6 major risk factors for heart disease that you can modify or control: Cigarette and tobacco smoke, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes. Making healthier lifestyle choices will have loads of benefits for your health, especially for your heart.

Here are some tips to get you started towards good heart health:

- Get moving! Remember, your heart is a muscle and the more you move your body, the stronger your heart will get over time. People who maintain an active lifestyle have a 45% lower risk of developing heart disease than do sedentary people. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderately-intense exercise at least 5 days a week. Take a dance class. Go for a hike. Join your friends on a bike ride. Make it fun to keep yourself motivated and consistent.

Heart-healthy eats. Key words to keep in mind: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low cholesterol and low fat foods.

  • Balance your diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to benefit from the vitamins and minerals that contribute to good heart health. Stick to whole fresh produce as much as possible and be sure to avoid fruits or vegetables that are canned with high sodium or high sugar syrups.
  • Recent studies show that 39% of people ages 18 and under, and 42% of adults don’t eat whole grains at all . Eating foods high in dietary fiber, such as whole grain products, may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and will also help maintain your weight. Skip the bagels and breakfast pastries for breakfast and try oatmeal or whole wheat bread instead.
  • Foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol are almost guaranteed to raise your blood cholesterol and your risk for coronary artery disease and heart attack. Your body needs fat, in addition to carbs and protein, for energy so don’t skip it altogether. Choose heart-healthy fats (aka MUFAs or monounsaturated fats if you want to get technical) such as extra-virgin olive oil or nuts. Be sure to keep this in moderation folks.

- Kick the smoking habit. According to the AHA, cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by increasing blood pressure, making it harder for you to tolerate regular exercise, and making it more likely for blood to clot. Smoking also decreases the levels of HDL (high density lipoprotein) in your blood, otherwise known as the “good” cholesterol that may lower your risk for heart disease. There are many many good reasons to quit smoking, but the impact it has on heart health tops the list.

Wear red and talk to your friends, your neighbors, mothers and daughters, coworkers and social network: spread the word about the importance of heart health, not just today, but everyday. Set the example and pay it forward.

Here I am, showing off my red. Even my cell phone gets in on the action.

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Are you wearing red today?

How are you celebrating Heart Health month? 

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

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Thankful Thursday: Another Door Opens

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When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened to us.

-Helen Keller

I think Helen Keller was onto something here.

Keller embodied what it meant to overcome hardships as the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1904. She persevered and became an American icon who continues to inspire people to push past closed doors in order to succeed.

What was her secret? Why is it so hard for us to let go of the hurt that paralyzes us from action?

There is no one simple answer. Each of us has a unique path laid out before us with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

Some of us look to the problems of our unhealthy, overly-competitive global society that forces us to constantly compare ourselves to the millions of others out there who seemingly have their shit together.

Others point the finger inwards and tear themselves apart in an effort to find an answer to “why?”, which only pulls them further away from their purpose in life.

The fact is that once we feel a door close on us, we tend to shut down completely. We forget that those trials are in reality, an opening for something greater.

I have seen more doors close on me of late, then I have in a long time. As always, the timing of everything sucks and I find myself making some tough decisions about what I need to do in the short run. Like I told a close friend the other day, it’s time I put my strong girl pants on.

But I remain grateful for it all. The tears, the uncertainty, the challenges, and the fears; all of it is a part of a greater story that lies behind another door which isn’t really shut closed. Walking through them is taking every ounce of strength I have, but that effort is part of what makes me human. I carry these experiences with me always, as a reminder of what I’m capable of in spite of the roadblocks put in my way.

How can I not be thankful for that reminder?

Tell me, what do you do when you feel doors close on you?

How do you remain optimistic in difficult situations?

What are you thankful for this week?

Here’s my gratitude journal below. Please feel free to share your own notes of gratitude below or on Facebook or Twitter!

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As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

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#IStandwiththe47Million Against Cutting SNAP

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I’m not ashamed to admit that my family and I reaped the benefits of what used to be known as food stamps. My dad worked very hard to pull in what he could while my mom raised all five of us with all of the resources she could find.

Eventually we moved past government aid and got ourselves on our feet. Now, as an adult who spends most of her time shopping, researching, and writing about food, I experience the challenge of finding quality, nutritious food without breaking the bank on a daily basis.

I can’t imagine what it was like for my parents, especially my mom as she managed a household of seven with limited financial means and without speaking English. As a kid, you don’t need to imagine that.

All that mattered was that the food was there, without fail, because we had the temporary help of government social welfare programs to get us there (same goes for health insurance, but that’s a whole conversation for another time).

Following the ongoing conversation about the proposed cuts to SNAP programs has been disheartening. The ongoing budget crises that continue to plague the Farm Bill and its many components threatens to change some of the important strides we’ve made to educate the public about healthy eating and provide access to quality, nutritious foods to a population that often doesn’t have access to it because of limited income.

New York City’s Greenmarket system administered by GrowNYC offers a fantastic grocery buying program that makes the fresh produce sold at farmer’s markets across the city available to EBT, WIC and FMNP (Farmers Market Nutrition Program) beneficiaries. The program has been wildly successful with EBT sales in 2012 exceeding $830,000.

According to GrowNYC, “EBT has become a critical supplement to farmers who depend on these markets for survival, as some farmers reported that EBT sales comprise 25% to 50% of their total income.” This has become a national model for how to successfully integrate federal food benefit programs into farmers market programs across the country.

But what will happen to this program when SNAP benefits are cut if the current version of the Farm Bill is passed?

How will these families afford to buy the quality produce they’ve previously purchased with EBT benefits?

How will this affect the livelihood of farmers who’ve generated more income with the aid of EBT sales?

How will this impact our national obesity epidemic if low-income families lose access to nutritious foods due to cuts in SNAP funding?

The questions are endless.

I don’t need to ask what would have happened if my family didn’t get the help of WIC and food welfare programs, because the help was there when we needed it most. But how many families are facing that question for themselves as they struggle to make ends meet?

Latinos make up 17 percent of the one in six Americans who use food stamps.  According to the National Council of La Raza, Latino families experience food insecurity at a higher rate than non-Hispanic white households (23 percent versus 11 percent). SNAP is often a significant buffer from hunger for children, helping to ensure proper growth and development, the group said. Nearly one in three Latino children in the U.S. lives in a household receiving SNAP, according to NCLR.

Many who are against the cuts to SNAP point out that more than half of the recipients are already working, but putting healthy food on the table requires a livable wage, another raging issue affecting millions of Latinos and minorities across the country.

There are various proposals for a long-term Farm Bill that comprehensively addresses both the cost of living issue and access to affordable, quality foods for all families. The hope is that we will reach a consensus on how to improve the quality of life for Americans across the board. But we’re far from that goal as it stands.

#IStandwiththe47Million is a social media movement I came across in a plea from Margaret Purvis, the president of Food Bank for New York City. New York stands to bear the greatest brunt of this proposed cut, especially in our food bank programs across New York City. This threatens not only the survival of these programs, but the very survival of the thousands of hungry people who rely on food banks.

If you stand with the millions who are rallying against the proposed cuts to SNAP in the current Farm Bill law up for vote, then please do the following:

  • Email your local senator or congressman/woman about why you believe SNAP benefits should not be cut from the bill
  • Take a selfie pic of your feet and tweet why you #IStandwiththe47Million to @BarackObama and your local political leaders
  • Invite your friends and family to join in—every voice matters, and we need ALL Americans to speak out

Research the impact of SNAP in your state and see how the cuts will affect you directly. Empower yourself with the facts and stand up for equal rights and access to food everywhere.

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Latest Musings, Newsworthy Articles, Nutrition and Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thankful Thursdays: The In-Between

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“It’s everything in between we live for.” What are you doing with that time? Regretting or doubting the clumsy start of love? Fearing its end? Or celebrating—lavishly—the in-between?

I’m not much of an Oprah fan, but occasionally I find some gems in her countless newsletters that make me stop and consider my life from a different angle. The quote above was no exception.
I often get caught up in the ‘big picture’ view. Everything I do is calculated to reach for that image in one way or another. The series of steps seems endless, and so it’s no wonder that I feel like I’m never really getting anywhere with my goals.
One of the best things I learned from my weight loss journey is that the smaller changes to my diet and exercise that I adopted gradually were at the core of my success. By managing my expectations and embracing each new positive change as a major victory, I found it easier to do the things that I’d resisted for so long in all of my attempts to lose weight.
In between the start of the journey and the big picture goal at the end, there’s a world of experiences that we sometimes overlook in our rush to reach the finish line. We forget to live in the moment and enjoy it just for the sake of being exactly where we are in our journeys and reveling in that fact.
Somehow the present gets traded in for the future, and we find ourselves incapable of truly living in gratitude for the life we have right now.
Goals are important and vital to self-improvement, but not at the expense of sacrificing the joys of the in-between. Be mindful of all those little steps. That’s where life is.
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Do you get caught up in the ‘big picture’?
How do you enjoy the ‘in-between’ moments of life?

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

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Thankful Thursday: Are Your Eyes Open?

For you newcomers to my blog: welcome and bienvenidos!

Every Thursday I share at least three things I’m thankful for to keep myself accountable for recognizing the upsides in life, both big and small.

Sharing my gratitude journal last year was a cathartic experience. The therapeutic release of expressing gratitude for the good things in my life helped me gain perspective, especially when I needed it most.

2013 was a murky year filled with loads of detours. I felt like the Griswolds in their car getting stuck in one of those British roundabouts in European Vacation.

Yeah, this was me, on a perpetual loop.

Sometimes I struggled with thinking optimistically about my future, but focusing my attention on the good in the present moment allowed me to open my mind up to the potential that lay beyond my own limits.

A recent post by Ozioma of Burnbright Lifeworks, reinforced what I learned this past year:

Many of us lead exceedingly complex lives where millions of bits of information pass right before our very eyes, much of which we will never retain. This phenomenon causes our minds to focus on what appears to stand out: the BIG things. BIG shows of love, BIG spikes in sales, BIG, BIG, BIG. Before we know it, we fall out of gratitude and forget about the small wins we experience every day. Over time, what would have been milestones on our journey become meaningless and what would have been cause to celebrate is now seen as cause to compare.

I once learned that if you do not celebrate your achievements, both big and small, it’s as if they never happened.

On our journey to live big dreams, we can’t forget about the small acts of kindness, the small triumphs, and the small steps of progress we take everyday. If you truly want to enjoy the life you have, while working towards what your life can be, it’s important that you learn to celebrate your wins, no matter how small. ¹

She sums it up pretty nicely, no?

This week was filled with crazy highs and lows for me, but after a year of living in gratitude and looking at the upside, it was much easier for me to cast aside the  negative in favor of the moments that left me feeling ecstatic and appreciative of this life that I’m shaping each day.

So, without further ado, here are three things I’m thankful for this week.

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Have I convinced you to start your own gratitude journal yet???

No worries, I’ll be back here each Thursday sharing my journey and hopefully getting you to see the advantages to being grateful for the life you’re living now.

Until then, think about what may be blocking you from what you truly want for yourself. What are those barriers? How can you move past them? What puts a smile on your face each day? Consider those answers and open your eyes to the world around you.

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

 

CITED WORK

¹How to Live the Life of Your Dreams Entheos Academy

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How Powerlifting and Latina Magazine Changed My Life

Where the heck are those curtains? I thought to myself.

I was rushing through a department store one afternoon on my lunch break from work when I received the email.

Hello!

I’m working with Latina Magazine and for our social media issue, February, we’re reaching out collecting images from Latina bloggers all across the web. We’d love to include you!

I stopped in my tracks, nearly bumping into another other harried lunchtime shopper, as I scanned the message that popped up on-screen.

Latina magazine? Really?!

Considering I was inconsistent at best with my blog and my workouts had petered out considerably, I felt both awed and somewhat embarrassed. How could I possibly be included in a social media issue when I’d taken such a huge step back from this world?

I’m reminded of how I felt when I started training with Natalie a little over a year ago. I had just gotten over some of my gym fear by stepping out of my apartment and joining my brother on some runs. Natalie was a professional powerlifter and personal trainer with years of experience handling  heavy weights. I’d admired her from afar and I talked myself into giving it a shot. I figured I’d keep running and this would be a fun, new way to keep fit in the meantime.

The first two months of training were all about laying the foundation by building on my existing strength and layering on some of these new movements. I didn’t even touch a bar until several months of getting the basic movements down.

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I can still remember how challenging it was to practice RDLs with a pvc pipe, awkwardly mimicking Natalie’s movements and completely embarrassed by what all the gawkers were thinking of my horrible form.

Of course there were no gawkers. There was no one there to criticize me or point fingers the way I scared myself into thinking would happen. Fear is a tricky and powerful thing.

I spent years before I started training, questioning who I was by equating my self-worth with what I didn’t have. I wasn’t thin. I wasn’t “successful”. I wasn’t a leader or inspirational. I wasn’t enough.

The baby steps I took with powerlifting a year ago opened up doors that I never thought I’d get through without a battering ram and maybe another decade of hemming and hawing. I found an outlet that showed me unequivocally what I could do with a bit of effort, and more importantly, with faith in myself to get it done.

It inspires me to talk to other women who are out there kicking butt in their gyms, their living rooms, and their communities by illustrating the way exercise and healthy eating have transformed their lives.

Strength is beauty, in any context.

Reflecting on the last year of lifting highs and lows, I find myself still working on that foundation where I began. I may have traded in the pvc pipe for a weighted bar with plates but the work is still going on in my mind to get past the fears of what he might say or what she might think.

Battling back that fear in all my endeavors continues to be a major hurdle that trips me up sometimes. These days I’m choosing to focus on the rebound, because no matter how much my inner critic finds ways to hold me back, I always end up right where I need to be.

I stood there, in the aisle of a busy department store and allowed myself to hesitate for just a moment. I let the fear in and talk me in and out of a series of thoughts doubting who I was and all that I had accomplished a year after I started blogging and lifting. But only for a moment. And then I got back to the business of proving that I did in fact earn this, no matter where I was in my journey.

And here I am.

From healthy living to raising our kids to saving money, the thriving community of Latina bloggers is an ever-growing group that is not afraid to speak up about the issues that matter to us. In the February 2014 social media issue of Latina magazine, we featured some of our favorites–including our own Irina Gonzalez‘s punto on this virtual familia. Check out our full list of the 37 Latina bloggers that you should be following in 2014!
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Thankful Thursdays: It’s Never Too Late

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Another late start. Sigh.

This has become a bad habit I’ve developed the last few months.

Late to work. Late to the gym. Late to meet up with friends. Late to finalize my plans for New Year’s Eve (spent at home because I couldn’t make up my mind). Late to pretty much everything.

And here I am, late to write this post.

2013 was a strange year. An understatement of sorts because there’s no good way to boil down 365 days into one word. But that’s what it was: strange. With a side of bewildering. And a dash of weird.

As I rung out 2012, I proclaimed 2013 to be “MY year!” (to be fair, I spent last New Year’s Eve out with friends and made this statement after several celebratory drinks post-ball drop. Wasn’t late to that one).

Lucky thirteen, I thought. And it was lucky. Extraordinary in fact:

  • I spent 40 days exploring my spirituality and actively learning more about the nature of happiness through my then-guru’s miracle makeover program.

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  • I tackled my racial identity issues head on by proclaiming loudly that the judgement of others had no bearing on who I am as an individual.
  • I FINALLY learned how to ride a bike, a major hurdle in more ways than one.

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  • I opened up about my issues with disordered eating after my experiment with the Paleo diet.
  • I went back to school! I’m working towards a masters certificate in Nutrition Science at Tufts University and I just completed a course in wellness coaching certification. MAJOR win for the year.
  • I tested myself in the kitchen and created my own cookbook of sorts, by sharing my experiments here on this blog and promoting a Meatless Monday agenda.
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Part of my Meatless Monday and Summer Produce Recipe Series

  • I received the utterly surprising nod from Latina magazine as a top blogger this past summer which is both rewarding and humbling.
  • I beat my own expectations for what I was capable of physically by picking up powerlifting at the beginning of the year and then surpassing my own goals by December with this incredible lift.

These are just a handful of moments. There were personal experiences of transformations and epiphanies that pushed me to take a glimpse beyond my limits, if at least for a moment. Those brief periods illuminated a path for me by opening my mind up to new possibilities.

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But not all was bright and cherry. There were changes that I struggled with as well. I celebrated the unions of my closest friends at their weddings this past year and watched them take those huge steps towards a new chapter in their lives. And I couldn’t help reflecting on my own.

Where was I headed? Who am I going to be when I reach that stage? Will I ever be ready for marriage when I don’t even feel ready for this life on my own?

The strong foot forward that started out the year, shifted as the road took a turn. My steps became unsure and I lost sight of my direction. I stepped away from this world that I spent the better part of the year building and I stopped writing.

It seemed that with each passing day I was slouching towards Bethlehem more than traversing the path of enlightenment.

It’s no wonder I find myself late to pretty much everything these days.

As the ball dropped on 2013, I took note of these changes and how I ended up in this period of malaise. And I got restless.

The truth is that when I shut myself off to the outside world by running away from social networks, this blog, and other commitments, I was really opening myself up to a brand new journey. It’s unexpected and frightening, but one of the most incredible changes (and challenges) to come my way in a very long time.

I was close to dismissing this year as a failure in my grand experiment to reshape my perspectives on life, health, and happiness simply because the transformations didn’t appear tangible or wholly impressive. Then I realized that I sold myself way too short, another habit that I have yet to shake.

We never know when our worlds will change or how, but when they do it seems that everything is new again. And that’s how I feel right now. Brand new and aware of more than just myself and my choices. My understanding of love and happiness is complex and ever-changing. My opinions of what being healthy means is also evolving with each new experience. I hope to continue challenging myself to stop saying “I can’t” by trying new things and pushing past my boundaries.

I don’t know what’s in store for me in 2014. With horizons broadened each day, I’m inching along in this journey. There’s ups and then there’s downs, but I’m finally beginning to understand that no matter how much I run away from the world, I am never truly alone or truly disconnected.

If there’s only one thing I can take away from my ‘lucky 13′ it’s the power of gratitude and perspective. Taking the time to reflect and reset forces me to recall why I started all of this in the first place. There are still so many goals I want to accomplish for myself and for the community around me. It’s never too late to get back to who you are and your mission. If you find yourself caught between action and inaction, remember that you can always reset and start over. Each moment is an opportunity and it turns out that I’m right on time for mine.

Happy New Year everyone! I’m looking forward to sharing much more with you in 2014 so stay tuned!!

As always, keep paying it forward and stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Featured Favorites, Gratitude Journal, Latest Musings, My Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this Week

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The big 3-0.

Yep, I’ve finally crossed the threshold of the my twenties and am starting off this new decade with a bit of celebration and a lot of introspection.

I never approached my thirtieth birthday with trepidation or angst. In fact, I looked forward to the day that I could bid adieu to the doubt, insecurities, and stupid mistakes that defined the last ten years of my life.

The reality is much different of course. There’s still fear. There’s still doubt. My insecurities are here for the long haul. And I’m pretty sure I’ll keep making mistakes just as easily.

But where I am now doesn’t compare with the kind of person I was at 21 or 25 or 29. This year alone has seen some of the biggest transformations of my life, in mind, body, and spirit.

To repeat a tired cliché, the most interesting people are works in progress. I plan to be interesting for a long long while.

As the holidays approach and the year comes to a close, I feel that the crossroads I’ve been standing at for the past couple of months are finally leading me somewhere.

Where? I have no clue. All I know is that my direction is forward and that I’m not alone on the journey. I’ve opened myself up to new experiences and new people who changed me irrevocably.

How can I not be grateful for all the hiccups, missteps, and challenges when they’ve brought me here, surrounded by love and inspiration?

So, bring it 30s. I’m ready for you.

What are you thankful for this week?

How has this year transformed your outlook on health and wellness?

As always, keep paying it forward and stay healthy. :-)

Posted in Gratitude Journal, Latest Musings, My Stories, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Get Your Mind Right

Yes, I’m still here.

I’m on a particularly difficult leg of my journey that’s kept me behind closed doors and really, a closed heart. I’m working on it though, and being mindful of the universe and it’s messages, I was led to this incredible post by Entheos.

Positive thinking and optimism are two goals that elude and challenge me on a daily basis. It’s incredible how something so simple at its core can be difficult to embody. The obstacles are everywhere. Negative work environments. Financial woes. Toxic relationships. Unhealthy and inactive lifestyles. And those pale in comparison to the walls we put up internally that keep us trapped in a cycle of fear and immobility.

The unpredictability of my personal journey this past year has left me feeling somewhat bewildered. I strive to keep my eyes open to the signs that will hopefully lead me to a new cycle of love, gratitude, and a celebration of self.

This post by Brian Johnson from the Entheos Academy is one of those signs. I’ll take it where I can get it.

Are you actively working towards optimal living? If so, how are you reaching your goals? What words of wisdom can you share?

As always, stay healthy and keep paying it forward! :-)

How to Get Your Mind Right

“Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible.” – Marcus Aurelius

Optimism. It’s huge. In fact, everyone from old-school philosophers to modern-day scientists tell us that being able to put our attention where we want when we want is one of THE keys to optimal living.

Before we jump into my Top 10 Big Ideas on how to get your mind right, let’s get a handle on what optimism isn’t!

== What Optimism Isn’t  ==

1. ANTs, Teflon & Velcro. Researchers like to say that we have “automatic negative thoughts.” They call them ANTs for short. (Apparently we have 60,000 thoughts/day. 95% of them are the same as yesterday. 80% of them are negative. That’s 45,000 ANTs/day!! Yikes.)

Unfortunately, our brains evolved to be “Velcro” for the negative stuff and “Teflon” for the good stuff. It was helpful for our survival but now? Not so much. We need to use some organic “ANT spray” on the automatic negative thoughts and create some automatic positive thoughts instead.

“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.”  
– Buddha

2. Monkeys & Cars

–> Monkeys. Eastern philosophers like to say that when we’re stressed, it’s as if we have little out of control monkeys in our minds swinging from thought to thought to thought to thought to thought to endless looping thought. When we’re really stressed, it’s as if the monkeys are drunk! And they’re a little crazy! And they act like they just got stung by a scorpion! Yowsers. Know this: a) it’s normal + b) you can do something about it.

–> Cars. In Sanskrit, the word dukkha means suffering. It comes from two little words that describe a wheel that isn’t spinning properly. Imagine driving a sweet car with a wheel that won’t spin. You’re going to have problems. That’s EXACTLY what happens when our MINDS get stuck on a certain problem. We screech to a halt and suffer. Another way to look at it: Imagine having that sweet car with 4 good wheels but, unfortunately, you’re stuck in 1st gear. Or 5th gear. Or reverse. D’oh. Same thing. We suffer when we’re stuck!!

3. Learned Helplessness vs. Learned Optimism. Martin Seligman, the godfather of the Positive Psychology movement and resident genius of the University of Pennsylvania, studied helplessness. Fascinating research. He could expose dogs (and people!) to shocks and create “helplessness.” But he noticed that some people NEVER dropped into helplessness. They were optimistic. We need to learn what they do.

Helpful Distinctions:

Victim vs. Creator. There are basically two ways we can orient to the world: as a victim or as a creator. Scientists call this an “external locus of control” vs. an “internal locus of control.” It’s *really* important that we know that we always have the ability to choose an empowered response—that we have an internal locus of control and that our happiness is not determined by things that happen to us (external) but by how we choose to respond to those events (internal).

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset. Quit trying to “prove” yourself and have fun “improving” yourself! Celebrate the effort you put in and let go of the results!

Time to Hit the Optimism Gym. First thing we need to know: Scientists tell us that even if we’re currently a little more cranky and pessimistic than we’d like, we CAN become more optimistic.

How? We build our optimism the same way we build our muscles: Via consistent training! So, let’s hit the optimism gym.

The Top 10 Big Ideas

1. Choose the Most Empowered Response.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms— to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor FranklWe’re always interpreting the world. We can choose more or less empowered ways to see life. As we just discussed, the key to happiness is gaining more control over your responses. Stepping in between stimulus and response. Here’s a fun game: Something stressful happens. Now, notice that you’re feeling a little edgy and see if you can STOP. Not respond in a habitual negative way but CHOOSE a more empowered response.See the Silver Lining. Scientists agree with the old adage that every cloud has a silver lining. The fact is, the sun is always shining behind every cloud. There’s *always* a silver lining to any challenge we might be facing. We just need to look for it!10 out of 10 philosophers + psychologists agree: Making this a regular practice is a very (!) wise idea.

2. Put Your Bouncers & Attorneys to Work.

“The Master said, If out of the three hundred songs I had to take one phrase to cover all my teachings, I would say ‘Let there be no evil in your thoughts.’”  – ConfuciusAttorneys. Imagine two attorneys in your mind: one arguing for all your limitations, the other arguing on behalf of all your awesomeness. Which attorney will win? Whichever one you pay the most! (You pay them by the amount of attention you give them.)Bouncers. Give that attorney some extra support by hiring a bouncer for your mind. Only thoughts on the invite list get in. Bad thoughts? They’re kept out. Bam!One practical way to do that: cognitive therapists say: Write down your negative thoughts and challenge them!

3. Be Grateful.

Gratitude is scientifically proven to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to significantly and sustainably boost our happiness.Stanford-trained Ph.D. Sonja Lyubomirsky can bring peeps into her lab and split them into two groups: One group keeps track of things they’re grateful for once a week for six weeks. The other group just writes down random stuff. 6 weeks later, guess who’s happier?The grateful group. By 25%!!!What what? Yes. It’s true. Something as simple as jotting down 5 things you’re grateful for once a week can boost your happiness levels by 25%. Kinda makes you want to keep track of awesome things, eh?We can practice this throughout the day by engaging in what the guys who wrote The Tools (phenomenal book!) call “grateful flow.”

Anytime you’re feeling your inner Crankysaurus Rex rearing its head, step back and imagine all the amazing things you’re grateful for. That’s grateful flow. It’s awesome.

4. Think About What Went Well Today.

Savoring. It’s one of the most powerful ways to stop taking things for granted and really appreciate life. Take the time to appreciate the little things in your life that are wonderful—from a beautiful sunset to a kind word from a friend.Here’s a practical tool: Use the What Went Well exercise. It’s one of Martin Seligman’s top recommendations. Every day this week before you go to bed, write down three things that went well that day and why they went well. From the mundane to the sublime. Huge.

5. Play the Equanimity Game.

“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self- control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.” – Marcus AureliusRemember that old Emperor guy in the movie Gladiator? That was Marcus Aurelius. (Gotta love Emperor-Philosophers, eh?)Aurelius faced a lot of challenges. His peeps would often die from pestilence, get attacked by barbarians, that sort of thing.He liked to play a game with himself. Any time he found himself off balance, he’d see how fast he could get back on balance and maintain his equaniminity (favorite word: it comes from the Latin “balanced” + “mind”).

Next time you get off balance, see how fast you can get back on balance. Make it a game!

6. Look at You vs. The Size of Your Problems.

Do you have a really big problem in your life?Well, hate to break it to you but that likely means that you’re being a really small person! :0We want to have fun noticing when we’re being ant-sized people and letting little molehills look like mountains.The key to dealing with bigger and bigger challenges with grace and ease is to become a BIGGER person. (How? Live your ideals!!)

7. Find What’s Funny.

Things not going great? Can you find something funny about it?Because there’s almost *always* something kinda funny about the little annoyances in our life.When I was getting ready to teach a class on Optimism last year, our dog decided to take a poop on us in the car (ew!) on our way to the pediatrician with our new little baby.Now, that was unfortunate! (Laughing.)My wife Alexandra and I knew that we could choose to either get upset about it or not. We chose to see that it was kinda funny and laughed as we cleaned it all up.

Going to laugh about this in 10 years?

Why wait? :)

8. Use Some Mind Tools (aka Mantras).

Just like Western scientists, Eastern gurus tell us that we can shape our minds. They have a lot of ways to do it. One of the ways they really like is thru the use of what they call mantras.The word mantra is Sanskrit. It comes from two little words man + tra. It basically means “mind tool.” How cool is that?Little mantras/mind tools like “Thank you thank you thank you!” or “I fearlessly approach any and all challenges. I fearlessly approach any and all challenges” can literally reshape our minds.It’s kinda like taking a little screwdriver to our brain and tightening it all up in there.

Good: “I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win.”Not so good: “I’m an idiot. I’m an idiot. I’m an idiot.”

9. Meditate.

The most powerful way to train your attention?Meditation. Period.It’s like going to the gym for your mind. Even if it’s just for a minute a day, PRACTICE! It’s fun. 12-15 and you just might start altering your DNA! :)(Check out my class on How to Meditate without Moving to the Himalayas for more goodness here.)

10. Practice, Practice, Practice.

“All that is required to become an optimist is to have the goal and to practice it. The more you rehearse optimistic thoughts, the more ‘natural’ and ‘ingrained’ they will become. With time they will be part of you, and you will have made yourself into an altogether different person.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky

Now, all of these ideas are nice, but if we don’t PRACTICE them they’re useless.We can’t expect to try them out once in a while and get results. That’s kinda like Ben Stiller’s character in Zoolander who goes into the coal mine, works for 5 minutes and then comes out thinking he has black lung.Uh, yah.We need to work diligently, patiently and persistently at *anything* we want to master and there’s nothing more important to master than our minds.Buddha tells us that little by little a person becomes good just as a water pot is filled with water. We need to add little drops day in and day out and as we do that, our water pots will be brimming with joy and happiness and mojo and all things good.

Exercises:

  1. Gratitude journal. Write down 5 things you’re grateful for. Really feel into it. Do that once a week and watch your happiness soar.
  2. Practice choosing a more empowered response! Can you think of an incident over the last 72 hours when you might have gotten a little more stressed than useful? How could you have responded differently? Think about that and practice this week!
  3. Play the equanimity game! Find yourself off balance? See how fast you can get back on balance. Take a deep breath, notice your thoughts and get your mind balanced!
  4. Are you facing any challenges in your life right now? What’s the silver lining? What lesson or benefit might be hidden in the challenge?
  5. What was your favorite Big Idea? How can you start practicing it in your life starting TODAY?
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Thanksgiving is More than Black Friday

It’s that time of year again.

That’s right. Thanksgiving.

Our excuse to be major gluttons while watching football games, dodging familial landmines, and sleeping off hangovers in time to catch the early deals on Black Friday.

If you’ve been following my site, you’ll note that there’s a lot going on in that last statement that doesn’t fit into my picture of the holidays.

Thanksgiving can be and should be so much more than what it’s become.

Black Friday disturbs me. The one time I worked retail on that particular day was enough to haunt me for the rest of my life. I quit my job shortly thereafter.

Does owning that new television at half the price truly make you happy? What makes this year’s deal better than last year’s deal? Why are you cutting the quality time with your family short so that you can engage in bitter sometimes violent battles with others over something you don’t actually need?

Maybe I’m coming off a bit righteous. If so, than I don’t apologize.

I’ve spent the better part of this year digging into the why’s and how’s of happiness to try and get a better understanding of what makes me tick. It’s an ongoing process that often leaves me feeling confused, but that level of self-awareness has opened me up to thoughts that typically fall outside the lines. I grasp at the potential for something bigger and much more profound. Life is meant for living, and pursuing money for the sake of owning things isn’t living.

Sure, I have material wants, and as much as I hate it, money is a necessity. But I’ve found the moments that bring me the most joy and truly made me feel full, had nothing to do with a deal on a pair of boots.

Watching my best friend walk down the aisle with her mother on her wedding day will be a memory I hold forever. Sitting down and wrapping my arms around my knees as I take in the breathtaking beauty of the rocky landscapes in Utah brought me a deeper connection with nature and the world around me. My mind was never clearer as it was in those silent moments of observation.

If you’re one of the millions who is anxiously waiting for Friday, I won’t tell you to stop what you’re doing. And despite what this post sounds like, I’m not judging. Do you.

But don’t sacrifice the opportunity to experience some truly wonderful moments that will stay with you forever in favor of something that’s fleeting.

I shared most of my gratitude journal with the public this year as a way to keep me grounded and focused on the power of saying thank you on a regular basis. There are times when it’s a challenge to find the upside, but when I finally do, it’s always worth the effort.

This Thursday is the big one for gratitude and when it’s your turn to say what you’re thankful for, take full advantage of the chance to share what’s important to you with the people you love.

Put all of yourself in that time. Eat. Laugh. Share. Be present.

Make the choice truly celebrate the holiday from beginning to end. You’ll realize as time goes on that the parts that stick with you are the ones that didn’t cost a dime.

How are you celebrating Thanksgiving?

What are you thankful for this year?

Note: I spent last Thanksgiving sharing a live feed of my healthy recipes throughout the day. As much fun as I had posting pictures and recipes, I realized that I could not and would not repeat that format this year. It goes to my point: Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and creating memories. That doesn’t include me whipping out a camera every five seconds. I’m stepping out from behind the keyboard and my phone to share an inside joke with my sister or to learn cooking tips from my mom. And you should do the same! Unplug for a little while! We’ll all meet up back here eventually.

If you’d like to take a look at some of these healthy dishes for Thanksgiving, then go ahead and check them out here.

If you’re looking for something different for dessert, then take a look at this chocolate pumpkin torte!

I’ll be back here to share my gratitude journal on Thursday. I hope you’ll feel inspired to share yours as well.

HAVE A HAPPY AND HEALTHY THANKSGIVING!

Keep paying it forward, now and always. :-)

 

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Stop Violence Against Women Now

Fifty-three years ago on this day, Patria, Maria, and Antonia Mirabal were beaten to death by henchmen of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, leader of the Dominican Republic at that time. The Mirabal sisters were known dissidents of Trujillo’s tyrannical regime.

Trujillo’s reign over the peninsula was brutal marked by a suspension of civil liberties and extreme violence, particularly against women with his voracious sexual appetite and penchant for rape. The assassination of the Mirabal sisters marked a significant shift in Dominican politics and Trujillo’s supporters took flight. He was assassinated less than a year later.

The United Nations commemorated the Mirabal legacy by establishing November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Over fifty years later, and the statistics are staggering.

One in three women throughout the world will be a victim of abuse in her lifetime.

In some countries, one-third of women report that their first sexual experience was forced.

Between 500,000 to 2 million people are trafficked annually into situations including prostitution, forced labor, slavery or servitude, according to estimates. Women and girls account for about 80 per cent of the detected victims.

The cost of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceeds $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion is for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.

It’s time for change.

Domestic and sexual violence in the United States is difficult to measure on a national level, but the reality is that many women and young girls experiencing violence don’t report it and remain silent. According to NOW, young women, low-income women, and minorities are more likely to be victims of this type of violence.

Envision a world where women aren’t silent, but rather, are invited to the table. Where they’re given a platform to speak and propose their ideas for change. Where they have equal access to resources for their families and their communities. Where they can become leaders with equal representation in our governments.

Building on women’s leadership roles is paramount to any agenda for global change. We have seen women step up and take charge as political representatives of war-torn communities, such as in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) was introduced in 2010 as a measure to support intervention, health and education services to ensure women can avoid becoming a victim of abuse.  It has yet to pass Congress, although there is a push for it to be reintroduced for a vote in front of the Senate.

This is one small step towards change. But what can you do right now?

Talk about it, for starters. Today is one day. But there are women and children coping with abuse every single day of the year. Consider the way your children or friends and family approach violence. How are women represented in your circles? What language do you use? What images?

We like to think that we’ve come a long way since the women’s movement of the 1960s, but the truth is there is still a tremendous amount of inequality and gender bias in the workplace, media, political representation, and in our conversations and personal relationships. The disproportionate number of women who are victims of abuse is enough of an indicator that we still have a long way to go.

This isn’t just an American issue.

This isn’t just a political issue.

This isn’t just a women’s issue.

This is a human rights issue.

It’s time we all step up to the plate and take the pledge to stop using physical and sexual violence against ANYONE starting now.

If you are a victim of abuse or a  concerned friend or family member who may be experiencing abuse, there are resources for you.

You are not alone. There are people out there who know where you’ve been and can get you help.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women also marks 16 Days of Activism, culminating in Human Rights Day on December 10th.

What causes or issues matter to you?

How will you be an activist in your homes and communities today?

As always, keep paying it forward and stay healthy! :-)

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Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this Week

imageDo you believe in the power of dreams?

I’ve never been the kind of person to sit and analyze my dreams. I can never find the symbolism in the randomness and the memories fade so quickly that I’m left clawing at the fog, no closer to figuring out just what the heck was going on in my subconscious.

But being the overanalytical sort that I am in my conscious mind, I do feel the way dreams resonate with me after I’ve woken up. Instead of remembering events or faces, I feel what each image evokes. Fear. Trepidation. Joy. Anxiety. Calm. Hope.

It’s been a long time since I’ve dreamed.

I lost touch with the fantastic in my own life. I allowed myself to get boxed in by doubt and fears, further fueled by exhaustion and a creeping apathy. Why was I doing all of this? What is the point?

This site has bared the brunt of this burden. I’ve kicked it about and ignored it when it was calling to me. I never returned messages and I kept putting it in my “I’ll get to it later” pile. I’ve been a terrible girlfriend.

And you always appreciate what you had once it’s gone.

I come back here each Thursday as a reminder to dream. There are so many things I want to share with all of you and too many articles in my mind that I have yet to commit to words. The journey is ongoing. My exploration is tireless.

The amazing part here is that I can still dream and dream big. I welcomed back the butterflies in my stomach that usually accompany the whimsy of my dreams. There’s fear. There’s trepidation. There’s some anxiety. But there’s also joy. And more importantly, there’s hope.

A testament to those butterflies came in the form of two major wins for me this week.

I’ve avoided the scale for about six months. It’s not a secret that I have an issue with numbers and what they mean to me. No matter how many times I look at my reflection or feel the way clothes fit, the numbers on a scale always manage to make me feel much heavier than I actually am. I zero in on my weight as the end-all-be-all for everything, when in actuality weight has no bearing on the significant strides I’ve made this year to be healthy and fit.

So I threw the scale under my bed and forgot about it.

I decided to take new measurements to track my progress from six months ago and part of that process includes weighing myself.

I won’t go into the number. I will say that it’s my lowest body weight since I hit puberty, but that’s not the victory here.

I got on the scale, looked at the number, let the shock course through my veins, and then stepped off. I put the scale back under my bed and walked away.

In the space of five minutes, I’d realized how monumental this was for me.

I worked so hard to lose weight these last four years because my goal was to be thin and to look a certain way. I have no shame in saying that because aesthetics will always play a part.

This was the first time that I’d stepped on a scale and let that process have a very clear beginning and end. I didn’t step off thinking to myself, “this is good, but let’s bring this down another 5lbs,” the way I’ve done every single time I’ve weighed myself in the past. I didn’t obsess over what that number really meant compared to my reflection. I didn’t think about how cool it was either.

I stepped off. Put it away. And moved on.

Weight is such a small piece in the big picture of healthy living. The real work I’ve put into myself comes in the form of positive thinking, self-motivation, and testing both my body and mind by pushing myself to try new things in all areas of my life.

None of that comes up on the scale. I don’t get a happiness rating when I check my BMI. My body fat percentage doesn’t come with an assessment of my worthiness as a human being.

I’m finally beginning to understand myself on a deeper level, and that right there, is one of the biggest victories I’ve had this year.

My second win this week is much more direct. I’ve come back to powerlifting with more ambition and dedication this past month. My goal was to hit a 225lb deadlift by my 30th birthday in December.

Yesterday I realized that I aimed low and that I should never ever doubt myself.

Instead of going into the specifics, I thought I’d show you instead. The lift wasn’t pretty, but I got it done.

What are your big “wins” for the week?

What are you thankful for?

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

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Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this Week

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This was not one of my best weeks. I battled a cold, tried to get some much-needed sleep after months of nonstop work and madness, and I neglected my fitness and blog goals.

No, definitely not one of my best weeks.

These challenging moments, however, are the best opportunities for growth. I’m grateful for them, sometimes even more than the times I’m happy, simply because they push me to be introspective and more importantly, proactive about my wellness vision.

I had dinner last night with a cousin who has been experiencing similar hurdles. Both of us have a deeper desire for purposeful lives, but we often feel disconnected to those goals, namely due to fear, stress, or an inability to realize our dreams because of circumstances.

What came out of our conversation was invaluable. Communication. Sharing. Empathy. And eventually inspiration.

When we retreat from the dreams that make us truly happy, we also open ourselves up to the possibilities that come from being up against a wall. The pressure to change for the better pushes us to think outside the box and to get creative.

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The ‘universe’ throws me a bone.

There are times when I shut down and don’t tell anyone what’s really going on in my mind or heart. It isn’t until I let that out in conversation with someone I admire or care about, that I’m able to really begin seeing through the veil. One of the best parts of that process, is that I’m able to do the same for them. We give and we receive.

And that is the point of a gratitude journal. I’ve received. Now it’s time to give some of that joy back to the universe. You balance out the scales and create positive energy for yourself and your environment in the meantime.

Sure, your week may not have gone as planned. But there is always something to be thankful for in the midst of all the chaos. Take a moment to consider that for yourself.

I always love hearing people share what they’re thankful for, so please go on ahead and share your thoughts in the comments below or on my Facebook page!

As always, keep paying it forward and stay healthy! :-)

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Wednesday Inspiration

What are your tips to stay motivated?

How do you keep your eyes on the prize?

Share your stories in the comments below!

Keep paying it forward and stay healthy! :-)

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Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this Week

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I’m keeping it short and sweet this week. My cold is keeping me from a lot this week but that’s what happens when you don’t get enough sleep and don’t eat enough greens (obviously, pie doesn’t count!).

Either way, sharing three things to be grateful for is an exercise I can’t miss no matter how sick I am.

Tell me, what are you thankful for this week?

Wishing everyone a safe and healthy Halloween!

As always, keep paying it forward and stay healthy!

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Reflecting on Sandy, One Year Later

The weekend after Thanksgiving last year, I got on a bus with about fifty other volunteers who met up at JackRabbit running store in Union Square early on a Saturday morning. We were headed for Far Rockaway to lend a helping hand wherever and however we could, after Sandy wrought havoc to the residents of that area at the end of October.

That entire experience changed me irrevocably.

I don’t have pictures. What I do have are the memories of house doors spray painted with orange X’s by FEMA, marking the fate of the residents who would lose whatever was left of their homes in the wake of the storm. I remember walking through the streets lined with insulation torn from the walls of houses, mixed with the scattered memories destroyed by the flooding and high winds that brought so much devastation to this area. I’ll never forget meeting the older gentleman living alone in his house, with mold slowly growing through the walls, and talking to him while he quietly asked for a tuna fish sandwich and water for lunch that day.

The week after Sandy was an eye-opener for me on so many levels. I didn’t take the warnings seriously like many in the city. We’d been through it all, and this seemed like something else that was overblown in the news. I even came here to share a recipe, laughing at what I deemed was an overreaction. Why worry? We quickly learned just how wrong we were.

When my power, water, and heat were finally restored nearly a week after the storm hit, I came here to share my experience. At that time I took part in a weekly blog series titled, “Saturday Upsides” where I shared positive stories to uplift and inspire others to look at the positive side of situations that would otherwise be deemed impossible. The upwelling of emotions and thoughts that arose out of a week living outside of anything resembling normalcy brought me to this story that I told and am reposting below.

This was down the block from my apartment building one year ago.
Photo Courtesy: http://www.thelowdownny.com

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully capture what this meant for me. Much like my memories of 9/11, I mark this as another indelible moment in New York, where my lens refocused and I got to see another side of this city that I love so much, and in turn, see myself from a different angle. It took time for me to adjust which surprised me. I spent a lot of time coping with the impact and this site was vital to my sanity for a while.

I was lucky. My family and I got through the week without any major scars and with our home still intact. There are too many families who cannot say the same.

So much has changed in the past year. Yet, people are still hurting. Some have moved away from their homes because it was unsafe to move back in or there was nothing left to rebuild. Neighborhoods ravaged by Sandy are still in need of support.

Today is a sad day marked by tragedy for so many. But it is also a day of action. Volunteers are mobilizing all over the city to continue in the efforts to help bring these communities back from the brink of total collapse. Whether you’re at Breezy Point, Long Beach, Seaside Heights, or Tottenham, there is room for everyone.

What are you doing to reach out and help?

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy. :-)

Saturday Upside: Bright Lights, My City

“If you imagine an ordinary moment at an intersection of New York City, and there’s a pause at a street light and some people are stopped and others are in motion….if you were to put that into film terms and a freeze frame and hold everything for a second you would realize that there’s a universe there of totally disparate intentions. Everybody going about his or her business in the silence of their own minds, with everybody else and the street and the time of day and the architecture and the quality of the light and the nature of the weather as a kind of background or field for the individual consciousness and the drama it is making of itself in that moment. And you think about that, that’s what happens in the city in that somehow the city can embrace and accept and accommodate all that disparate intention at one and the same time, not only on that corner but on thousands of corners.” – EL Doctorow

There are times when I really can’t stand New York. The harshness of the city coupled with the nonstop competition to be first in line for everything- your job, at the ferry, waiting for the doors to open on the subway car, at the bar to order your drinks, crossing the street- leaves me exhausted and irritated most of the time. I was born and raised here but with each passing year I feel a growing detachment and disillusionment with my hometown. Just the other day I told a friend that I was considering leaving the city altogether. “I can’t take this place; it’s making me hard and I don’t want to feel like that anymore,” I said. Then Sandy happened.

To say that New York has had its share of hard knocks is an understatement. In its 400 year history, the city has been a laboratory for American society, testing the limits of what we’re capable of by providing a stage where extraordinary challenges were met and overcome. There have been setbacks and tragedies, and through it all there was a sense that a unique one-of-a-kind character grew out of this chaos. The resilience of a New Yorker has its roots in that history and it’s built into each person that calls this place their home. This gets lost in the daily hustle and bustle and really, it’s not something we stop to think about. The seemingly casual indifference to what makes New Yorkers so different often gets misinterpreted as rudeness. But like everyone else, we’re not one-dimensional and there is no better way for us to demonstrate our grit then when we’re faced with a challenge that shows the world who we are as a city.

I live in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, at the heart of the blackout zone in the middle of the most vibrant and energetic city in the world. When Sandy hit, I was shielded from major damage by the height and sturdy structure of my high-rise building. Then I witnessed the explosion of the Con Edison power plant outside of my window and knew that this was something different. My blasé attitude Monday morning while baking brownies shifted. I had an inkling that maybe I was wrong and this could really affect New York much more deeply than I anticipated. Even still, by the time the power went out, I was convinced that this was a one day affair and that it would take even more to stop the city in its tracks. Besides, I’d lived through the massive blackout in 2003 where I’d walked over 20 miles to make it home in scorching summer weather only to face two days without power and water thereafter. This was nothing.

Two days later and still no power or hot water, and dwindling batter power, I had to revisit and revise. This was something. A major something. I looked out my window at night and it was like there was a shroud covering all of lower Manhattan. There was the Empire State building, an imposing lighted figure in the sky, along with the Chrysler and all the rest of midtown and beyond. And here was Chinatown and the Village with its mish mash of recently built luxury rentals pushing into the older tenements that once housed the likes of the great Governor Al Smith and immigrant families a century before, all cast in darkness. No streetlights to illuminate the way. There’s nothing quite like viewing that juxtaposition of uptown and downtown, light and dark all visible in the frame of my window. Each night I stared out towards the lighted half of New York and felt a growing resolve that I needed to see what it was like out there for everyone else. I couldn’t handle the cabin fever any longer and decided to brave the pitch black in my apartment building, walk down nineteen flights of stairs with a flashlight, to stretch my legs, hunt for supplies, and see what was really going on in the streets. What I experienced will stay with me for the rest of my life. That sounds utterly dramatic, I admit, but there are no words to properly describe what I saw or how I felt.

This is an unfiltered account of what went on from the point of view of one downtown girl.

I ventured out through Chinatown and took in the enormous generator parked in front of my building on my way out. Mentally thanked the emergency responders who acted quickly to get the water pumps running so that we could at least get water through the taps which was a welcome sight after two days. I passed the small businesses and their owners checking damage, people young and old roaming the streets, carefully navigating the crosswalks as there were no traffic lights to speak of. I walked through Foley Square and the massive courthouses that saw no midday bustle that you’d expect to find on a Wednesday afternoon at lunchtime. Avoided getting run over by hoards of bike riders making their way off the Brooklyn Bridge, glanced at City Hall to find it empty presumably because the Mayor and city staff have their hands full, and then kept going towards the World Trade Center and my office building. Everything was closed, as expected, but still it was good to get confirmation firsthand.

I decided to shift directions and walk up Vesey Street and straight up towards the Freedom Tower construction site. It was a shock to see its lights go off the night before. After seeing the void left behind by 9/11 outside my bedroom window, it’s been reassuring to see lights in the sky in that part of the horizon again. The building stands solid and firm against the backdrop of eerie silence. There were a few tourists walking around, taking pictures, enjoying themselves. They had all of downtown to themselves, so I guess I could see the appeal. But then again, they’re not New Yorkers. They don’t live here. I see beneath the veneer of the gloss and skyscrapers. And what I’m seeing is loss. A vacuum of sound and life. As I walked through Tribeca, it was this absence that struck me most. Businesses were shuttered, a few people scurried about. There’s usually an energy that’s thrumming beneath the surface. It vibes and shakes to its own crazy rhythm with each person contributing their own beat. This was gone. I felt like I was walking through a cemetery. Pulling out a camera (as I almost did on several occasions) and taking a photo could never capture that feeling. Besides, I’m not a photographer; I’m a writer and what I saw demanded words not images.

I headed north determined to find something on my list, especially batteries, but really I just wanted to see where the life of my city went. Where did this blackout zone end and what would I find on the other side?

I roamed through Soho and watched humvees and Red Cross army trucks roar down Broadway. Walked up through Noho, and then realized that I wasn’t going to make it on foot. I stopped at Astor Place and took whatever bus I could take that would get me north past midtown, which was where I was told the blackout line ended. Once we made it past Union Square I started to see signs of my beloved city coming to life. There were more people on the streets and they seemed to walk with purpose. I can’t tell you what a difference it is to see people moving with a direction in mind, especially when they’ve got that patented New York hurried stride. It was a relief to witness after seeing the dazed wanderings of my neighbors downtown. Then came the emotions. Ah the drama of anger and frustration! I watched groups of people prepare themselves to get on my bus only to shake their hands in exasperation and mouthing expletives when the bus wouldn’t stop because we were too full. The controlled chaos of New York streets began to appear as we made our way uptown and then it was like a switch was pulled. The world tilted on its axis and everything was upside down.

I happened to be on the M1 bus which I’ve never taken before in my life but its route is up Madison Avenue. Not my usual route. I barely make it past 14th street on a normal day and I’m definitely not rubbing elbows with the high rollers on Madison and 5th Avenues. The scenery outside my window on the bus changed from the tenement low-level buildings downtown to the storefronts for Chanel and Christian Louboutin. There were dozens of people running around, sipping Starbucks, out to lunch, shopping, doing whatever it is people do on a normal day, because for them, it was normal. I felt uncomfortable, like I’d stepped through some portal and found myself in a bizzarro world where the hurricane never happened. What were these people doing?? Didn’t they know what was going on downtown? We’re on the same island; how can you be shopping right now?? I was insanely jealous of their ability to carry on and turn on the lights like it was any other day. I am not a part of this uptown crowd and this was a big reminder of why I stay on my part of the island. Sure, it’s irrational but there it is. I wanted to get out of there fast but the bus was inching along and I still needed to get supplies.

After I got off the bus and walked to my destination, I realized that I’d forgotten it was Halloween. The kids with their costumes and baskets tipped me off and then I felt off-kilter again. Kids trick-or-treating with their parents seemed so far off from what I left behind at home. There was no Halloween for the kids in the Lower East Side.

I made it. I found batteries in the fifth store that I checked, some dog food for Gizmo, and I got apples and non-perishables from the grocery store. Then I got a major score by catching my bus back downtown just in the nick of time. It felt amazing to run and even more amazing to know that I was headed home, albeit a home without power, but home nonetheless.

We moved at a snail’s pace. The public transportation system has been completely shut off for days and people clogged the streets with their cars. It made me think of all the cliché New York traffic scenes I see in movies which I always thought were ridiculous because it’s never that bad. Until Sandy anyway. Everyone had someplace to go and cars were the only way to get there. So we crawled downtown. The scenery shifted back to my normal. The bus filled with people weary after days of the same, on a similar hunt for supplies or a free outlet to charge their phones. You could read the exhaustion on their faces.

Tensions run high in these kinds of situations and they can boil over for some people. I saw this firsthand as two men decided it was time to vent out their frustrations by yelling at each other across the crowded bus. Accusations of racism and prejudices against people with disabilities were hurled back and forth as were threats of violence. I shared weighted stares with the other passengers who like me knew better than to intervene and to just wait out the battle of words with patience. Eventually someone gets tired and backs down, which is exactly what happened. I glanced at the older woman standing in front of me and we both just shook our heads. This is that vicious bite of New York that can leave me feeling stung and overly annoyed with the whole lot. This constant display of anger and moodiness casts a shadow over the city on the best of days and here we are trying to get back on our feet and these two jerks decide to duke it out on a bus surrounded by dozens of tired people who’ve been through the ringer. It was like someone snapped their fingers to shake me out of my post-Sandy daze and reminded me that this is what makes me push New York away.

My world flipped again ten minutes later. The bus was filled to capacity. People attempted to make their way on and off and had to shove and adjust themselves to get around. Two Asian women stood in front of my seat on a narrow aisle and another woman tried to make her way through the crowd to an empty seat to my left with her small suitcase. These two Asian women and everyone down the aisle made a passage and helped push and pull this woman along to get her to this seat, even carrying her suitcase and helping her get settled as the bus moved and jostled everyone forcefully forward and back. No one spoke the same language. It was a flurry of what I was assuming was Chinese, Spanish, and English but they all worked together with smiles and gestures to get everyone to their place. The woman kept saying thank you over and over again with genuine gratitude and everyone nodded and just went right back to whatever they were doing beforehand.

Two bus rides brought me uptown and back downtown and I felt like I saw the very essence of New York reflected through both journeys. The harried and tired, the excited and nervous laughter, the silent disinterest, the anger and conflict, the kind and generous, children and seniors, students and workers, Latinos and Chinese, poor and affluent; we all color the city with our diversity, our energy, and our actions. There are always hiccups along the way where people clash and the very thing that makes our city so great can cause strife, but when New York’s back is up against the wall, New Yorkers find a way to make it all work somehow. Harsh words are exchanged but just as quickly people are fast to help those around them, shoot a reassuring smile, or share a thought wordlessly across the aisle. It riled me to see the disparities between life uptown versus the void of life downtown. Downtown, the very birthplace of this incredible city and the site of so many tragedies especially in our recent history, handles these disparities the way it always has; with a profound resilience that each generation inherits even as the communities have changed to accommodate immigrants and emigrants from all over the world. I came back home hours later, no more tired than anyone else, but lost in thought as I tried to process what I saw.

I’ll admit that I belong in the lucky column on this one. My apartment wasn’t destroyed and we were surrounded by supplies thanks to my mother’s lifelong hoarding habit. We received several offers to escape to other parts of the city that had power but we stubbornly refused. As long as we had the essentials, we would see this through. It’s this obstinate steadfastness making us dig our heels in and face night after night of darkness and cold that may be called crazy by some, but I embrace it with pride. This was our town and we had faith that things would work themselves out in time. That said, I have to acknowledge that Staten Islanders, Long Islanders, New Jerseyians and others in our area didn’t have the luxury we had and have been forced to try and find help in desperate circumstances. They’ve lost homes, others have lost loved ones. It makes me feel awkward to sit here and talk about my experience when there are others out there who are going through much worse. I can’t begin to imagine the loss people are coping with as they begin the recovery process.

Throughout it all, I’ve heard the beginnings of a battle cry across the tri-state. Volunteers are out in force and mobilizing though the front lines of disaster to reach out with their concern, and most importantly with supplies and aid. We were visited by two officers who were doing verticals not for the usual purpose of crime watch-dogging but to reach out, hand out water, and just to see if we were alright. New York Cares volunteers followed later that afternoon. There are hundreds of thousands of people in lower Manhattan, most in high-rise buildings reaching twenty-stories and up with no elevator service and to receive this kind of individual attention in the midst of this chaos was astounding. Even now, as I’m typing, City Meals-on-Wheels is handing out blankets and food in my community center to those most in need. I watched the elderly carry their new supplies with smiles on their faces, urging others to go and collect their own before it runs out. As I understand it, the recovery efforts have not been perfect across the city. When are they ever? But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that I’ve seen the work of our government in action on the streets of New York this week, and they’re doing a magnificent job.

We save up our gratitude for November and Thanksgiving, but really there is not enough said for the efforts of first responders, the NYPD, FDNY, city workers, and the volunteers who work tirelessly to both resolve emergency situations and to extend their hands and connect emotionally. Thank you to every single one of these brave men and women. Thank you to my brother, a police officer, who worked hours on end in the evacuation centers on Staten Island in the middle of the storm and is still working throughout the city to reestablish order. Thank you to my friends who reached out to me to keep me sane and check in on our status. Thank you to my family who banded together to share this experience in harmony with laughs and good humor in spite of the challenges. We sat together around our kitchen table, played jigsaw puzzles, and attempted to cook what was left in our fridge in candlelight. Being without power urged us to reconnect without the distractions of the modern world and I have to be grateful for this impossible situation to remind us all of the power of family.

Sandy is another chapter added to the city’s history. Another scar marring the face of New York. In the end, she always picks herself up, lifts her head proudly, showing that face to all who come here, and she smirks defiantly as if saying, “we beat this too, what next?” I look around at my hometown and I see people who won’t stay beaten down for long, who rise to the occasion to help others without a second thought, and who prove time and again that a New Yorker is like no other. Life will eventually resume and I’ll get frustrated with the city again. It always happens. And I may leave one day for a fresh start elsewhere. But I’ll always be home because in my heart I’m a New Yorker through and through. And I’m damn proud of it.

Posted in Latest Musings, My Stories, Saturday Upsides, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this Week

imageSometimes we find ourselves in situations where we really need to be honest about our intentions.

For all of my talk about self-awareness, there are still certain areas in my life where I have trouble being honest with myself.

I call them triggers.

This past week brought back some of those triggers.

It always amazes me how traumas from our past can so quickly trump common sense. My experiences have roots in my heart and in my mind, and no matter how hard I’ve worked to weed them out, they creep back in and cause me to question who I am today.

And that’s what matters. Who I am today.

Who I am in this moment.

But I can still be grateful for who I was then.

I can still appreciate the journey that brought me to who I am right now.

Triggers be damned.

And in true cosmic-coincidence-style, fate threw me this bone this morning as a reminder of what I know all too well. That “click” that locked things in place for me in the past, and thankfully, it resounded loud and clear this week.

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What are you grateful for this week?

How do you move past negative triggers?

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below!

Keep paying it forward. Stay healthy (and grateful)! :-)

Posted in Gratitude Journal, Latest Musings, My Stories, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Woman’s Intuition

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A bit of visual inspiration today from my tea.

When was the last time you felt innocent?

Did you trust your naiveté or did you scoff at the supposed silliness of looking at the world through such a broad lens?

As we grow older we let go of the wild imagination of our youth in favor of what’s logical.

I can’t help but wonder, what’s so great about being logical?

Before experience and influence hardened my views into the practicalities of adulthood, I dreamed.

I dreamed recklessly, without abandon. The world was so huge and limitless.

The innocence gave way to disillusionment over the years and dreaming so big became scary.

I clamped down on the urge to explore beyond a certain point because the unknown was fraught with all sorts of frightening repercussions. Kind of like the big bad monster that lived in my dark closet which scared the crap out of me when I was four.

Twenty-five years later and the monster still has me shaking in my boots.

I sit here drinking my tea, dreaming.

I dare to look at the monster in the face for at least a minute and I’m going to say, “BOO!” just this once.

My four-year old self would be proud of me.

What’s your transformation story?

What inspires you to change?

As always, keep paying it forward and stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Latest Musings, My Stories, Quotes, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Meatless Mondays: Healthy Apple Favorites

There are many many things I love about Fall.

Boots. Scarves. Brightly colored leaves. Cooler cuddle-worthy weather.

And my personal fave, apples.

Just look at these beauties.

lots-of-apples.jpg

Dreamy.

I took my love for apples to a new level of obsession with my apple recipe series last fall. In my search for Meatless Monday recipes in the archive, I realized that this would be the perfect time to bring these dishes back to the blog and hopefully onto your Pinterest boards for some healthy fall cooking inspiration.

If you’re planning on going apple picking or if you’re looking to try something new, then take a look at the links below!

Four of my five recipes in this series are completely meatless and they’re perfect for a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner or treat (there’s pie after all).

This Apple, Goat Cheese, and Pecan Pizza on Multigrain Crust is an easy way to combine some truly amazing fall flavors on a healthy crust. I topped this pizza with arugula to give the pizza a peppery finish, but you can use spinach or dandelion greens if that strikes your fancy. Also, if you’re going completely gluten-free or paleo, how about you try a cauliflower crust instead?

Meatless Monday 10-14-13 Pizza

Looking for an easy breakfast recipe that’s perfect if you’re on the go and looking for an alternative to the eggs and bacon routine? Then check out these Healthy Oatmeal Apple Muffins, courtesy of the genius behind Cookie + Kate. My previous experience with her recipes inspired me to give these muffins a try and they were a definite hit for the week. Mental note to self: make these again immediately.

Meatless Monday 10-14-13 Muffins

Butter can be healthy, especially when it’s made from apples. I’m a huge fan of fruit spreads and jams. Unfortunately, I don’t have the equipment (or the time or patience) to work on making my own fruit preserves each season. When I found this recipe for Unsweetened Apple Butter, I knew this was the perfect way to break in my brand new slow-cooker. And the results? PHENOMENAL. No, seriously. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. You won’t regret it, I promise you. Meatless Monday 10-14-13 Butter

And then there’s pie.

Check out my recipe for Deep Dish Apple Pie with a lighter, reduced fat crust. For all you pie lovers out there, I don’t really need to explain myself here. You don’t have to wait for Meatless Monday to enjoy a slice of pie, especially one that’s truly delicious and healthy to boot. Consider this a comfort food treat featuring the very best of Fall. Plus, I offer some baking tips if this is your first time making pastry dough or baking pie. I’ve made many pies and this pie pictured here? Best one ever.

Meatless Monday 10-14-13 Pie

Feeling tempted to pick up some extra apples this week to give these recipes a try? You’re not alone. Happy Meatless Monday folks!!!

Remember to keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Healthy Recipes, Latest Musings, Meatless Mondays, My Pretty Apron, Nutrition and Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this Week

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These last few weeks have been like a rollercoaster ride. And not one of those smooth rides, where you get on, enjoy a few twists and turns and then get off after a couple of minutes of heart-pounding excitement.

It’s been more like one of those terrible stories you hear on the news, where people start that dreadful climb to the first peak, slam down, do a loop or two and then get stuck on a turn, upside down, with no recourse but to sit and wait for one of the engineers to figure out how to get you down.

Yeah. Kind of like that.

I’ve been looking at the world from the bottom up, with my blood rushing to my head for days on end with no idea of when I’m going to get off this particular twist of the ride. I’ve had way too many tension headaches.

But the universe spoke to me the way it always speaks to me. With a great, big booming voice from the sky fateful call about a potential opportunity and an even more exciting venture I’ve started after saying “never” for too many years.

I’m reaping what I’m sowing, so to speak, and the universe is responding to me in kind. You know, after it stomped on me for a couple of weeks and left me hanging on that rollercoaster ride of death and terror.

Not everything is perfect, but who wants perfect? Messy is always more interesting even with the confusion and the fear of absolute failure. The extreme highs and lows this past week is the culmination of an entire year of extreme highs and lows. I’ll take that over numbing regularity any day.

Thankfully (ha), my car is no longer stuck on that track. The universe got me chugging along and I’m finding myself swooping through the ride, the exhilaration of these latest developments helping pump adrenaline through my body, a welcome sensation after the last few weeks.

My point is that even when you’re thrown for that proverbial loop, there’s always something or someone out there rooting for you, even if that someone is just you. Practicing gratitude reconnects you with the core of your beliefs. It reminds you of what makes you happy and how that happened so that you can motivate yourself to do more of that happy-making thing in the future (that is, of course, if your happy making thing doesn’t involve truly dangerous behavior, such as eating a pound of chocolate in one sitting, which would really just make you feel sick, so how happy is it making you, really?).

So tell me. What are you thankful for this week? Feel free to share in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter!

Oh and since I was on an infographic run yesterday, I thought I’d show you one more today that I think is pretty great!

https://www.templeton.org/sites/default/files/GratefulInfographic(1).jpg

Posted in Gratitude Journal, Latest Musings, My Stories, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Stress Less and Meditate Already

It’s been a stressful couple of weeks.

I take that back. It’s been a stressful couple of months.

Not surprisingly, I’ve also been feeling like crap most of the time. The impact of stress on the body is tremendous. Just take a look at this infographic to see how much stress can affect more than just your mood on any given day.

http://dailyinfographic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/infographic-stress-effects.png

We know this. Stress=bad.

The constant advice to “chill out” and not “sweat the small stuff” tends to go in one ear and out the other. I’m guilty of this most of the time even though I find myself doling out that same piece of advice to others, knowing how difficult it is to just let go of the things that cause me to stress out.

There are ways to break this negative cycle.

And guess what: it’s free. No therapist or prescription necessary. Even better, you can start right now. You can start right this minute. Go ahead and stop reading my post if this means you’ll do this exercise to feel better.

What’s this remedy?

Meditation.

I’ve mentioned how I’ve incorporated meditation into my healthy lifestyle as a way to ease some of my tension on a daily basis. It’s a process that I stray from sometimes, but whenever I’m feeling my stress levels peak (take this week for example), I find myself sitting at my desk with my eyes closed, breathing deeply and shutting down for a little while.

If we can hibernate our computers, why can’t we do the same with our minds?

We are constantly buzzing all day with any number of obligations to others, but we underestimate the value of true downtime. And I mean real downtime. Like with no phones or television or tablets to distract us from realigning our minds with our bodies.

I am by no means an expert meditation master. I mainly follow a guided listening sample and try my best to sit still, breathe, and not think so damn much. Some days are much better than others. The important thing is that I’m taking the time to stop, something I never ever on a normal basis.

Let’s be honest here and talk about the total lack of mindfulness we bring to our daily choices. I, for one, grow tired of going through the motions in the process of getting from point A to point B. That lacks depth and it keeps me disconnected, further contributing to my stress and unhappiness.

Being mindful of my surroundings through my meditation practice helps raise my awareness of not only the physical reactions of my body in that moment, but it helps clear my mind of the uncertainties I may be feeling towards a given situation. It regulates my mood while also giving me some time to put things into perspective. What’s even more impressive is that it increases my productively which in turn, makes me feel more successful and more motivated to stay focused on my goals. It’s self-efficacy at its finest.

There are a number of studies linking meditation with a reduction in stress due to decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol while increasing cognitive function. Some of the other benefits from mediation include:

How can you start mediating?

There are various meditation practices that you can try either alone or with meditation groups. There are dozens of meditation meetups in New York City alone, so it may be worth checking in your area for similar programs.

I practice mindfulness meditation but my style is pretty fluid. I don’t have room for a meditation space, so I’ve learned to adapt to my surroundings and just find a spot where I can sit without distractions for at least 15 minutes. Since my mind is always going, I listen to guided affirmations or meditation music I’ve found on YouTube to establish a peaceful environment where I can let my thoughts drift.

If you’re looking for other types of meditation techniques and ways to get started as a beginner, here’s a great guide from FitSugar.

What does this cost me? Nothing.

My goal isn’t to have a transcendental experience or a conversation with God. I’m not Elizabeth Gilbert nor am I planning on moving to an ashram anytime soon. I just want some peace of mind.

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I seek balance with everything I’m doing. From my diet to my exercise to my mental and emotional well-being; it’s all about keeping things level especially during times when the scales are off and all I want to do is stay under my covers watching Netflix until I pass out (sounds so damn good right now).

The “run and hide” approach may work if your five, but that strategy doesn’t work as well when you’re an adult. Trust me. I’ve tried.

I’ll continue working on my meditation practice and hopefully one day I’ll know enough to come back here and share some more tips on how to get you started. For now I hope that I’ve swayed at least one person to give this meditation thing a try.

Like I said earlier, if this means that you need to stop reading this blog to practice, please don’t hesitate. In fact, go. Get up and just do it already.

Do you meditate?

Would you try meditation to help ease your stress?

How do you cope with stress?

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Latest Musings, My Stories, Nutrition and Health, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“I’m a Girl” and the New Initiative to Boost Body Image Diversity

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Photo courtesy of nyc.gov

When I first heard about Bloomberg’s latest public health campaign to help boost the self-esteem of girls bombarded with images of unfair beauty standards, I was both surprised and curious.

Despite Bloomberg’s polarizing stance on the soda ban and many other proposed plans to change the quality of life for New Yorkers, I am continually impressed with the diverse ways the mayor’s office is challenging many of the social norms that have repeatedly been harmful to both our emotional and physical well-being.

This makes my opinion pretty unpopular around the dinner table when politics comes up in discussions.

But I won’t apologize for being openly proud of the way our city government has made the attempt (albeit, not always successfully), to put messages out there that challenge the status quo.

In the “I’m a Girl; I’m Beautiful the Way I Am” campaign, various ads feature images of young girls from diverse backgrounds celebrating being exactly that; unique girls of different shapes and sizes who can be “creative, leaders, sporty, adventurous, smart and strong.”

In a recent NYTimes article analyzing the initiative, the goals of this campaign coupled with a program offering physical fitness classes to young girls are discussed;

Mainly through bus and subway ads, the campaign aims to reach girls from about 7 to 12 years old, who are at risk of negative body images that can lead to eating disorders, drinking, acting out sexually, suicide and bullying. But unlike Mr. Bloomberg’s ads to combat teenage pregnancy, smoking and soda-drinking, which are often ugly, revolting or sad, these ads are uniformly upbeat and positive.

There have been similar programs initiated by various organizations over the years that work with young women to transform their ideas about beauty standards in our society, however, New York City officials claim that this is the first attempt made by a major city to have the conversation on such a large platform.

It’s early yet and it’s difficult to measure the success of these advertisements in changing often difficult opinions about body image and beauty that are often engrained early on through environmental cues. Early testing, however, shows the response to these ads has been positive.

In a recent interview with Lean In, “I’m a Girl” campaign creator, Samantha Levine shared some of the reactions from focus groups:

We did focus groups with two groups of seven to nine-year-olds and two groups of 10-12-year-olds to see what would resonate. They loved it. Some girls said, “Wow, that makes me think that it’s okay to be dirty, not dress up all of the time, not wear makeup and go have fun and still be considered beautiful and still be confident in who I am.” That was really rewarding to see that it was resonating the way we wanted it to.

Unlike obesity or diabetes, body image dysmorphia and eating disorders are often undiagnosed or remain unreported, making a large-scale plan to change the trend difficult to coordinate, let alone implement.

How many of you have made a disparaging remark about your body or about other women’s bodies? How often do you compare yourselves to images you see around you? How many times has this played a role in your diet and how you approach food?

Whether we realize it or not, we often make associations between our bodies and our self-worth which can lead us down a dangerous path. I’ve been down that road myself and it’s something I continue to struggle with as an adult.

Another campaign targeting Latina women also recently launched under the name Girl Body Pride, by Latina magazine columnist, Pauline Campos. Her website provides an open forum where women can share their stories about body image, eating disorders, mental illness, and raising daughters with a healthier outlook about their bodies and appearance.

Girl Body Pride empowers women

Photo courtesy of Girl Body Pride

The significance of these new initiatives will have the greatest impact on minority communities that often overlook eating disorders and body image issues as being a ‘white girl’ problem, a bias that I’ve experienced firsthand and left me feeling confused for a long time.

I can’t help but wonder what my adolescence would have been like if these programs were available. I was lucky to have resources in college to help guide me through some of my more difficult years while also giving me an outlet to share that with others. And I can’t give enough credit to this blog for providing me with a space to continue working on my relationship with food and self-image.

My stance has always been to emphasize the importance of dialogue and balance. The efforts made by NYC officials to encourage positive body image on a city-wide level sends out the message that this is an issue affecting everyone, not just certain parts of the population.

Regardless of how effective these ads are at curbing eating disorders or promoting physical activity amongst younger girls, I believe that it’s a powerful statement to those who see these images each day. At the very least, it’s an alternative to the overwhelming deluge of images on our phones, tablets, and magazines that continually perpetuate unattainable beauty ideals.

What are your thoughts about the “I’m a Girl” campaign? Would you want to see this in your city or country?

Do you think women continue to spend too much time thinking about their appearance?

What do you think is the best way to boost body image for younger girls?

Please share your comments and/or stories below. I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Remember to keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Body Image, In the News, Nutrition and Health, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this Week

imageIt’s been a difficult week in my little corner of the world. When I sat down to write this week’s entry for the gratitude journal, I came up empty.

I sat there for a good long while until I had to put it away for a later time when I could clear my mind of all the negative thoughts and emotions that have consumed me this week.

Slowly, but surely, I was able to identify three things that gave me a deeper appreciation for the place I’m in at the moment. Upon further consideration, I added the overall emotional and mental challenge of this week as one of the things that I’m thankful for, even though it hasn’t been easy or fun.

Because that’s just it. Expressing gratitude is not always about flowers and rainbows. Or being happy all the time. Or the good things.

Sometimes those crappy weeks help shed light on the deeper recesses of your mind where you’ve been shoving all of the questions and thoughts that you didn’t want to deal with in happier times. It’s a wake up call and a necessary one to help realign you with your goals.

I had one of those weeks and I’m still going through the muck. None of that stops me from expressing gratitude. This weekly exercise, that I’m now sharing on this page, is essential to my journey.

It’s an outlet for the stress and frustration or for the happiness that can’t be contained. Either or, I find myself back here time and time again because it’s become vital to my well-being. Especially after the week I just had where all I want to do is run away, which is something I do often and a habit I’m trying to change.

This was a challenging entry. It wasn’t the first. And it won’t be the last. What’s important, is that I’m here sharing it without reservation, and with my eyes wide open.

It seemed pretty apropos that I would also get a thought-provoking email from the universe (yes, I get emails from the universe!) this morning.

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If I could trade all of the bad for the good, would I? Is it worth dwelling on the negative so much, especially when it’s taken away from what could come from the positive? Those are great, big questions and they’ll give me food for thought (ha ha) for awhile.

Can you list 3 things you’re thankful for today?

Keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Gratitude Journal, Latest Musings, My Stories, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’ll Take a Side of…Salad?: McDonald’s Evolves

Never underestimate the power of profit.

Or at least, that’s what seems to be driving McDonald’s latest venture.

Under pressure to respond to the demand for healthier options in their current menu, McDonald’s announced ” that it would no longer market some of its less nutritional options to children and said it also planned to include offerings of fruits and vegetables in many of its adult menu combinations.”

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The new McCombo.
Photo courtesy of McDonalds

The transition is expected to take at least three years within at least half of its targeted markets. The second half may not see this new menu until 2020.

Change, especially positive change, is slow-going.

McDonald’s global sales have been flat this past year. The failure to successfully capture millenials as loyal patrons has been credited as a major obstacle in the fast food giant’s struggle to both grow and maintain their market share.

By offering fruits, vegetables, and other options that are lower in fat, sugar, and salt, McDonald’s hopes to cash in on the buying power of consumers that are becoming increasingly health-conscious in light of the obesity epidemic. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and her work to get Americans on a healthier track, further illustrates the growing attention to what we eat and the impact of those choices on our families and communities.

Given the existing strategy to target children with the Happy Meal and low-income minorities with their cheap meal options, this announcement by McDonald’s is somewhat..dare I say, revolutionary?

Mixed health and diet messages.
Courtesy of http://durangobese.blogspot.com

Okay, revolutionary is a strong word. But it is innovative.

It’s clear the motivation here is strictly bottom-line economics. It would be silly to praise McDonald’s for their concern over the nation’s health as a primary motivator to change their model.

Of course it isn’t. We’re talking about McDonald’s here.

I can’t remember the last time I ate at McDonald’s, let alone stepped into one of their stores to check out their options. I’ve made it a point to avoid almost all fast-food chains because that was my personal choice  (except for you, Pret a Manger; your overpriced salads and sandwiches get me every time!).

Fast food chains have wizened up in the past five years by offering a variety of food options that would have gotten a laugh in the the past. Veggie burger? Burger King has that. Gluten-free pizza? Check out Dominoes. Salad instead of a sandwich? Pretty much everywhere.

Chipotle has made it their mission statement to be as transparent as possible about what goes into their food and what to eat if you’re following a strict vegetarian, vegan, or GMO-free diet. It’s far from a perfect model and Chipotle still has its critics, but I can still applaud their efforts to change a commercial food model that’s been in place for a long time.

Given the popularity of places like Chipotle and Subway ($5 footlong anyone?), the real deal for consumers seems to be choice. By emphasizing the customer’s ability to choose from a variety of toppings and ingredients, these companies have successfully latched onto a powerful trend with the modern individual.

We want choice. We want to see what’s going in that sandwich. Show me how you made that falafel, and I’ll feel more comfortable ordering a pita.

I admit I’m biased. This is definitely how I approach my choices for food on the go and I tend to gravitate to those places offering that sort of information from the jump. But I hear the same thing from friends who are less conscious about their health, but still concerned about the value of their dollar.

McDonald’s is a bit late to this game. The long transition period into these healthier choices will give other fast food companies the opportunity to continue taking pieces of the market share previously guaranteed to McDonald’s. Times have changed and customers are fickle.

I can’t tell you that this will sway me to walk into McDonald’s and order up a Big Mac with a side salad. Never say never of course, but it seems highly unlikely. That said, I have to acknowledge their efforts, in spite of the less than altruistic intentions, as a step towards accepting that we both want and need better food options.

I’m curious to see how this strategy will affect obesity statistics, if at all. I’m also curious to see what this will do to our global food system and how the shift towards vegetables and fruit will affect producers in this country and around the world.

Mostly, I just want to see if this works. It’s all about choice, after all, and half of the work is getting people to change their habits. Healthier options at fast food establishments have been around for awhile and our health continues to decline while our waistlines grow.

Changing the way fast food is marketed is one way to address the issue.  At the very least, companies are beginning to step up to the plate by making the choice for healthier food available. And that’s something.

What do you think about this recent announcement by McDonald’s?

Will this persuade you to start eating at McDonald’s if you aren’t currently?

Are you a fast food patron? Where do you eat regularly and why?

Share your thoughts and comments and below. I’m always looking to hear what you’re thinking!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in In the News, Latest Musings, Newsworthy Articles, Nutrition and Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Transformation Tuesday: No Such Thing as Failures

imageCelebrating our biggest challenges is a way to stay focused on the vision we have for ourselves. I don’t believe in failures. Or at least, I don’t believe that the efforts we expend on the journey go to waste if we don’t achieve our goals quickly or without hiccups. Celebrate your transformations, big or small. Celebrate the fact that you even had the thought to try. You’ve considered the possibility of a different future and therein you’ve reshaped your destiny. Treasure each moment that has you looking beyond this second of disappointment and hoping for something more. Those are transformations worth honoring.

Do you have a transformation story to share?

Follow me on Instagram or Facebook and share your stories each Tuesday? Or, simply comment below.

Keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

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Meatless Mondays: Baked Chickpea Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing

So I missed Sunday food prep again.

I found myself scrambling late last night, trying to use solely what’s in my fridge and cabinets, to come up with a healthy meal that was meatless, easy to make, and easy to transport to work for lunch this week. What do you do if you find yourself in my position?

You get creative.

I’ve been a Meatless Monday devotee for months now and I admit I’ve fallen into a bit of a salad rut. Most of my Sunday nights are spent just like yesterday, with me doing a mental inventory of my kitchen and then getting exhausted at the thought of cooking, and so salad it is for Monday.

Not today! Oh no, today I decided to take back Meatless Monday with something new and completely original (nice way of saying random, because that’s exactly what this dish is, a random mish mash of what was in my fridge).

There are loads of benefits to going meatless at least one day a week, starting with your health. Diversifying your protein by incorporating foods such as legumes or quinoa not only promotes cardiovascular health, but also increases your fiber intake at a fraction of the cost of animal protein.

One of the best aspects of adding beans to your diet is their versatility, especially if you’re on a budget like me.

Take the chickpea. With one can of garbanzos, you can mash it, fry it, boil it, puree it, bake it, or just eat them as is in a dish. For less than one dollar, I can try one of dozens of recipes, each uniquely different and nutritious (if you don’t deep fry them in oil or slather them in butter, which begs the question, why would you?).

I’ve shared some nutrition facts about chickpeas before in my falafel recipe but a refresher never hurt anyone. Here you go!

CHICKPEAS OR GARBANZO BEANS

chick-peas

Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans as they’re also called, are loaded with health benefits ranging from digestive tract support to lowering risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s a staple ingredient in Mediterranean and South Asian cuisines and can be eaten either in either cold or hot dishes. I’ve seen a number of gluten or grain-free recipes utilizing chickpea flour as well.

1 cup of cooked chickpeas has approximately:

  • Fiber: 12.5g or 50% DV. The most significant aspect of the dietary fiber contained in chickpeas is that between 65-75% of that amount is insoluble fiber which helps improve intestinal health and efficient digestion of food.  High fiber intake also helps keep you feeling full longer which can help reduce caloric intake.
  • Protein: 14g or 29% DV. This is especially important to those following vegetarian or vegan diets and are looking for plant-based sources with higher protein levels. Since our bodies do not store this macronutrient, we have to take it in through our diet. Protein is used to build and repair tissues, and it’s an important component in the making of bones, muscles, skin, and blood. So you can see how vital it is to maintain a diet that meets your specific protein needs.
  • Antioxidants and Heart Health: The seed coat or skin along with the chickpea’s inner portion are full of antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients that work to improve cardiovascular health. Chickpeas are an excellent source of the mineral manganese (84% of DV!) and the vitamin folate (70% of DV), each promoting cell energy and heart health by lowering the risk for artery damage near the heart.

In my mad dash to the finish line, I forgot to take out my camera to record the chaos, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share what I think is a solid Meatless Monday dish that you can pull off in less than 30 minutes.

Heck, I even used a toaster oven instead of my regular oven. Sometimes you need to cut corners.

Bonus: if you’re making this for one, you’ll have enough left over for a couple of days of lunch or dinner!

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INGREDIENTS (Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main)

  • 1 15oz can of garbanzo beans, rinsed
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 cups baby spinach, washed
  • 2 tbsps red onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsps red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mini heirloom tomatoes, quartered (can substitute with cherry tomatoes)
  • 2 tbsps dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 2-3 tbsps water (more if you want a thinner dressing)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/8 tsp salt

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Pat rinsed beans dry with a paper towel and throw away any excess skin that may have come off. (Garbanzos have a thin, clear skin that easily peels off). Preheat oven (or toaster oven!) to 400°F.

2. In a small bowl, mix beans, oil, and spices. Place bean mixture onto a small tray covered with aluminum foil and bake for 15-20 minutes or until browned. Make sure to stir beans around about halfway through.

3. Prepare dressing in a small bowl by mixing tahini, lemon juice, water, garlic, and salt. Add more water if you want a thinner dressing. Taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly.

4. In a large bowl, add chopped peppers, onions, tomatoes, cranberries, spinach, and cilantro. Remove chickpeas from oven when done baking and allow it to cool for about 5 minutes. Once cool, add it to the bowl with the rest of the salad ingredients. Toss with 1 tbsp of lemon-tahini dressing. Guess what? You’re done.

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Simple, huh? I actually wanted to add cucumbers to this salad but I didn’t have any on hand, so I went with a colorful mix of produce that would go well together flavor-wise.

If there’s any piece of advice I can give to the overly busy person who just wants to make something easy and healthy with no fuss is to not stress the ingredient list, especially for a salad. You prefer kale to spinach? Go for it. Have some carrots you want to use? Do it. Hate garbanzos but love black beans? No one is stopping you. Eating nutritious vegetarian meals is all about the variety and as long as you keep that in mind, you’re golden.

What are you eating for Meatless Monday? I’m always looking for new recipes so feel free to share. Better yet, how about you check out my Pinterest board and share a recipe or two. I promise, I won’t mind.

Keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Healthy Recipes, Meatless Mondays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cut Yourself Some Slack Starting Now

I walked to work this morning with my headphones on playing a guided meditation on releasing fear. Listening to the words gently urging me to break down the wall between my fears and my desires brought me a bit of clarity before I reached my desk and started my workday.

There’s nothing exceptional about this exercise. It’s the way I start my morning nearly every workday and I usually reach a high point of inspiration and creativity right up until the moments I begin the rhythms of work. That’s when I find myself getting lost in the mess of it all. This blog, my wellness coaching goals and all the rest remain behind that proverbial wall.

I’ve been in a bit of a fog the past several months. I’ve come back here at various points, celebrating a recent success or riding the wave of a specific emotion or inspired series. Throughout it all, I’ve felt a disconnect between who I was when I started this journey and where I am today.

I recently learned about the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, which is really just a fancy term for how we effect self-change over time. There are five steps to this process: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.

As a wellness coach trainee, I’ll admit that getting clients to the action phase and eventually maintenance is a major goal and ultimately what gravitated me to coaching in the first place. Seeing how people can change over time to build their self-efficacy and motivation towards achieving their vision for healthy living, and being a partner in that journey, is a remarkable experience.

Then I learned that getting clients to go from precontemplation to contemplation will really be the bulk of our coaching work with a small possibility that you can help clients move to preparing for their goals. Furthermore, this would take at least three to six months with careful planning and weekly sessions.

I was crushed. I thought I was going to change lives by getting people to the gym and improving their diets within weeks, maybe a couple of months. The fact that I’d spend most of my time encouraging clients to change their “I can’t” mentality to “Maybe, I can” seemed like such slow work that challenged my patience and admittedly,  my selfish need to feel like I’m actually accomplishing something.

It’s no wonder that some of this fog that’s kept me from blogging has also clogged up the works when it comes to my coaching. I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture and I’m not holding myself accountable for the lack of effort I’m putting into the process.

This is starting to sound eerily familiar….

I remember what it was like when I was on the other side of the coin, struggling to lose weight and allowing myself to be discouraged by the lack of results from my yo-yo dieting and exercise habits. I also remember clear as day when my thoughts shifted from “I can’t” to “Maybe, I can”, and how much that impacted my choices from there on out.

If I were to apply the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change to myself and how much time it took me to go from phase to the next, it’d look something like this:

  • 2 years to go from precontemplation to contemplation
  • 1 year to go from contemplation to preparation
  • 1 year to go from preparation to action
  • And I’m still going from action to maintenance, 2 years after I decided to embrace a healthy and active lifestyle

My own process of behavior change has taken nearly 6 years and it’s ongoing. 6 years.

Ah, okay. See, where I’m going with this?

Part of this fog and disconnect I’m experiencing is a combination of fear and adapting to change. I’m busier now than I’ve been in many years, and this time I’m doing things that I’m actually passionate about, which is both rewarding and terrifying. The key here is acknowledging the change but not allowing that to blind me to my purpose.

I need to put on my big girl pants and start holding myself accountable for the choices I’m making to build my future. And that includes EVERYTHING; career, friendships, blogging, romantic relationships, my healthy lifestyle. All of it matters and all of it relies on my choices.

Another lesson in my wellness coaching is the idea of self-care. As coaches, we need to practice what we preach. Walk the walk and all that.

I truly understand how difficult it is to let go of lifelong habits and reshape your thoughts so that you can make significant changes towards a healthier lifestyle. It’s not easy, and I’d be doing everyone a disservice if I ever said that losing weight and keeping it off was easy. The same goes for life changes too.

I also get that so much of this process is personal and it requires a tremendous amount of dedication and self-awareness. Not to mention accountability. This is the true value of a wellness coach. It was foolish of me to confuse that with the flashier prospect of major weight loss stories.

It’s much easier for me to cut you some of that slack. I’m so much harder on myself. And I can imagine that might be the same for some of you who are experiencing these same challenges.

I brought myself here this morning to do something I never do. I’m cutting myself some slack for getting caught in the fog and allowing myself to amble a bit on the road. I’m telling myself that it’s okay I haven’t been as committed to this blog as I was a year ago.

I’m also saying that as much as I can forgive myself, I can also admit that my desire for change far outweighs the ease of standing still.

Revisit, revise, and reassess. More importantly, let the negative thoughts go and be mindful of the process.

In other words:

Keep it simple, stupid.

Are you experiencing self-doubt on your wellness journeys?

How do you cope with fear?

If you blog, how do you get yourself out of a blogging rut?

Keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

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Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this Week

If you stopped and took five minutes this morning to think back on your week, what stands out? Which moments bring a smile to your face? When did you feel deep appreciation for being present and aware of the good in life?

We move so quickly each day that we sometimes forget to just be mindful of how we’re feeling in each situation. We fail to connect with what’s truly meaningful.

So I dare you to stop whatever it is you’re doing this morning and think of at least 3 things that made your week just a little bit brighter? Do this before you write that email or respond to your messages.

What did you come up with? Where is the source of that gratitude? Reflect on that and consider making this a small practice worth doing each work in a gratitude journal.

I’ve shared my journal in one form or another with everyone for the past six months because I’ve seen the impact this exercise has on my well-being. It puts things into perspective and aligns me with my true purpose.

Feel free to share your thoughts below!

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As always, keep paying it forward and stay healthy! :-)

Posted in Gratitude Journal, Latest Musings, My Stories, Wellness & Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

5 Ways to Stay Healthy At Work

I spend at least 50 hours of my week at work each week. About one-third of my life is spent sitting at a desk for at least ten hours a day. Add to that the time I spend writing, studying, and researching, and that percentage goes up to nearly 50%.

Half of my life is spent sitting.  It’s no wonder I look like this halfway through the work week:

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Hopefully no one will notice…

How many of you can say the same? 

The global shift in blue-collar or physically intensive work from developed nations such as the United States to underdeveloped nations has led to a significant change in the types of work Americans are performing each day. Technology and the internet have eased the way by redefining the way tasks are executed. Our movement becomes limited since everything is accessible at our fingertips; phones, computers, fax machines, copiers, printers.

How does this affect our health?

Researchers have taken note of this trend and are analyzing its role in the current obesity epidemic that continues to spike. In a 2011 study performed by Timothy S. Church and Corby K. Martin from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana State University , the last fifty years of labor force history has seen a decline in caloric expenditure compared to previous generations due to changes in occupation-related physical activity:

In the early 1960′s almost half the jobs in private industry in the U.S. required at least moderate intensity physical activity whereas now less than 20% demand this level of energy expenditure. Since 1960 the estimated mean daily energy expenditure due to work related physical activity has dropped by more than 100 calories in both women and men. ¹

Aside from moving less, we’re also eating more.

As we’ve become less active in the last fifty years, we’ve also started eating more foods, especially those that are highly processed and laden with fat, sugar, and salt. The accessibility of cheap snack foods and fast foods only exacerbates the slowdown of our metabolism brought on by prolonged sitting and immobility. ²

Pinning down one cause for the obesity epidemic is challenging and many agree that it’s a complex issue with various elements that need to be considered equally when debating the issue. Nevertheless, our sedentary lifestyle is becoming a major factor in our declining health and it will need to be addressed in any initiatives to help turn around the numbers.

All of that said, how can you turn this around if you’re like me and you spend countless hours sitting each day?

Luckily there are simple methods to keep both your mind and body active while also maintaining a balanced diet throughout the day.

Here are 5 easy ways to stay healthy at work:

1. Start your day off with a guided meditation or soft music on your phone or music player. Download a simple five-minute meditation, take a deep breath, and check out. I like to do this before I start checking emails or responding to messages. This helps clear my mind from any stress induced by my commute or pending deadlines and helps me start the work day with energy and positivity. There are many benefits to meditation, including reducing blood pressure which improves heart health.³ A guided meditation is great for novices but you can definitely do this sans music if you can focus without the audio.

2. Brown bag it! Bring your food to work. And I mean all of your food. Fruit, nuts, breakfast, lunch, heck even almond milk and spices if you need it. If your workspace has a communal kitchen with a refrigerator, make use of it. Buy some pretty labels to ensure your coworkers know its yours. The investment in time and money on this step should help keep you away from snack machines and allow you to stay energized throughout the day with healthy foods. I have my own “pantry” at work that I replenish every couple of weeks with the essentials.

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3. Work it out!  There are dozens of resources online sharing stretches or physical exercises you can do to help you move around and not look crazy in front of your coworkers or boss. My favorite list comes from Greatist which offers a range of workouts, some more obvious than others. I dare you to give some of these a try!

4. The Cubicle Wanderer. Set up a reminder on your phone or computer once every hour to get up out of your chair and walk around for a few minutes. I like to do this as an easy way to get the blood pumping and wake up my limbs and my brain. If you’re not adventurous enough to try Tip #3, than this is for you.

5. Laugh! Share a quick joke with a co-worker or pin a funny (not offensive or inappropriate, please) picture on your phone or wall to lighten your mood. I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble here, especially if your workplace is a serious place where your boss frowns on excessive fraternizing. But a laugh, quick or not, may help improve your blood pressure, stimulates the organs, and reduces pain. Think about the side stitches you get after a really good laugh. You’re getting a burst of aerobic exercise while momentarily clearing your respiratory system. Plus, laughing boosts your mood. Maybe save the big guffaws for your lunch break though.

Would you try any of these tips?

How do you stay healthy at work?

Please share your thoughts in the comments! 

Remember to keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Cited Sources:

¹ Trends over 5 Decades in in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and their Associations with Obesity

² The Perils of Sitting Down | Standing Order

³ Meditation Health Benefits: What the Practice Does for your Body

Deskercise: 33 Ways to Exercise at Work

10 Reasons Why Laughing is Good for You

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Thankful Thursday: What I’m Thankful for this Week

Happy Thankful Thursday! Each week I share three things I’m thankful for as part of my ongoing public gratitude journal. What’s the point? Expressing gratitude has been proven to be an essential ingredient to wellness and optimal living. Taking the time to share what you’re thankful for, big or small, keeps you on an upward spiral, helps you get motivated, and focuses your energy on possibilities instead of negativity.

Do you keep a gratitude journal? What are you thankful for this week? Feel free to share below anytime, any day of the week.

Always remember to keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

image

Note: I loved this process so much that I decided to share this for the first time on my blog today. If you’re interested in reading the rest of my weekly gratitude journal entries, please check out my Facebook page for past lists!

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And the Beat Goes On: The Power of Music and Exercise

We’ve all been there. You’re on a run or in the middle of a workout, starting to feel a lag in energy when all of a sudden the perfect song blasts through your headphones.

“Yes, THAT’S my jam!!” I think, and suddenly I pump my legs faster and find a second wind out of nowhere.

For me that’s “Diamonds” by Rihanna. Maybe for you it’s Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” or David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium. Whatever that song is, I can bet that you’re out there raising the volume on your iPods and moving a bit faster when that tune comes on.

rihanna-diamonds-single-artwork-400x400

Music works like a magical cure-all when you’re exercising. It has the ability to distract you enough from the strain of what you’re doing, allowing you to focus your attention elsewhere while your body does the work. This is essential for me since I tend to over-analyze pretty much everything at all hours of the day.

Music can motivate you with the right lyrics and tone. Why do you think the theme song to Chariots of Fire is often used in exercise montages?

And the right tempo can truly elevate you reach new heights of endurance and speed where you’re inspired to try harder as you go against the music beat for beat.

How does that work?

The research on this subject is broad and diverse. In a recent study by Dr. Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, a leading expert in the psychology of exercise music, he compared music to “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”

Ferris Jabr of Scientific American recently reviewed the research behind the relationship between music and exercise performance. Jabr notes that there are several important qualities to music, including tempo and rhythm response, which play a significant role in how the brain processes the sound and relays the information to our muscles.

To make some broad generalizations, fast songs with strong beats are particularly stimulating, so they fill most people’s workout playlists. In a recent survey of 184 college students, for example, the most popular types of exercise music were hip-hop (27.7 percent), rock (24 percent) and pop (20.3 percent). Some psychologists have suggested that people have an innate preference for rhythms at a frequency of two hertz, which is equivalent to 120 beats per minute (bpm), or two beats per second. When asked to tap their fingers or walk, many people unconsciously settle into a rhythm of 120 bpm. And an analysis of more than 74,000 popular songs produced between 1960 and 1990 found that 120 bpm was the most prevalent pulse.

Synchronicity between the beat of the music and the pace of a workout doesn’t necessarily enhance performance nor is it a preference for most people, but it may help the body use energy more efficiently.

Dr. Carl Foster of the University of Wisconsin, argues our innate tendency to move in time with music goes back to rowers of ancient Rome who coordinated their rowing with the beat of drums. Foster says it’s our brain’s natural response that makes us “want to step at the rate the music is playing or… pedal a cycle at the rate of the dominant beat of the music.”

A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness last year, revealed that cyclists who timed their pedaling with the same tempo as their music, reduced their oxygen uptake by 7%.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for music’s impact on exercise performance is the positive psychological affect various songs have on the ability to improve a workout.

Queuing up a playlist with the scientifically proven ratio of bpm to movement isn’t always the best course of action. A big piece of the formula here is the emotional tie a person may have to a particular song or series of songs that can do more to help increase motivation and self-efficacy.

As Jabr states,

Selecting the most effective workout music is not as simple as queuing up a series of fast, high-energy songs. One should also consider the memories, emotions and associations that different songs evoke. For some people, the extent to which they identify with the singer’s emotional state and viewpoint determines how motivated they feel. And, in some cases, the rhythms of the underlying melody may not be as important as the cadence of the lyrics.

Earlier I mentioned that “Diamonds” from Rihanna was a particular favorite of mine. Clocking in at 92 bpm, this song doesn’t hit that sweet spot of tempo and rhythm. But for some reason, when I hear this song come on during a run, I feel uplifted and the urge to keep moving. I’ve caught on to this reaction and now strategically place this song towards the middle or end of my runs because I know it will give me the push I need to continue through the end of the song, instead of stopping altogether.

So why does this song do that for me? “Diamonds” was released in the weeks before Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast last Fall. The week I spent without power or heat at home, was filled with the sounds coming from our battery-operated radio. As a new single, the song was on repeatedly and became a sort of anthem that I took on personally. The impact of that week was far-reaching and music played a big part of that emotional journey, especially since conserving battery power made those music-filled moments so precious.

When that song plays, I’m brought back to that moment in time and that’s a powerful experience in and of itself. It’s a bittersweet memory that serves as both a source of comfort and inspiration for me now.

I imagine each of us has that same relationship with any number of songs and that you find yourself walking or moving differently as an expression of the intensity of emotion that a song may inspire in that moment. It’s just natural.

The science backs up what I’ve already thought to be true, and that is the positive benefits of music to get our bodies moving and improve well-being. Music has been a part of culture and society throughout human history and it’s an integral part of who we are.

The incredible number of apps and devices available on the market that highlight tailored workout music and calculating performance is astronomical. Researchers and marketers alike are aware of the power of music and its role in exercise.

senior-woman-exercising-with-headphones

Music makes us happy! Just be sure to keep your hands  on the handlebars.

We’re instinctively attuned to the power of beats and rhythm. Have you ever been able to resist moving in even the slightest way when an irresistible song plays? Nope? Yeah, me either.

Do you listen to music when you exercise? What’s your favorite genre of music? How does it make you feel?

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! :-)

Cited Sources:

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Transformation Tuesday: Each Run is a Journey

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The Day the Earth Stood Still

I never heard Martin Luther King Jr. give his speech on the mall.

I can’t tell you where I was when John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.

Nor can I recount the story of how I crowded around a television to watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon.

But I can tell you where I was on the day the earth stood still.

I can tell you the exact words said. I can describe the faces of those around me, the pitch and tone of the voices, the dazed look of shock and pain; a mirror for everything I experienced as I watched my former world collapse around me.

There are moments in our lives where change is inevitable. Sometimes those shifts are subtle, only revealing themselves to us when we have perspective with time. Then there are those moments that irrevocably change the very fabric of who we are. They’re sudden and violent, with no reprieve from the jolt of a rapid shift from past to present. We’re thrown headfirst into a new, unbidden reality, with no real grip of who we are and the space we’re now occupying. It’s a terrifying freefall into the inevitable where everything, including time, is suspended and we’re frozen in place, attempting to grasp what is happening. A microcosm of frenzied emotions and events all converging in a split second. And then there’s gravity. And then there’s the fall.

In the last week of August 2001, I sat in World Trade Center Plaza in front of the massive gold sphere with my mom and sister, eating hot dogs after an exhausting shopping spree at Century 21 to pick up my essentials for my freshman year of college.

I was thrilled and nervous to start this new chapter, away from home. My mom wasn’t so happy and made her opinion known throughout the afternoon. I was the first to leave home for school, and my parents were not having an easy time letting me go.

I sat there looking around at the men and women in business suits, enjoying their lunches in the plaza. There were kids playing as their tired mothers sat watching them out of the corner of one eye, while going over their back-to-school purchases with the other. The vendors called out the deals of the day and people lined up to order hot food to go before rushing off to their next stop.

I listened to the classical music filtering through the air. That plaza and it’s streaming playlist of glorious symphonies echoed against the giant twin towers day in and day out, helping to drown out my mom’s concerns over my upcoming move.

This picture right here was my city. My home. All of these people flowing together in front of the grandest man-made landscape in the world. Poetry in motion. I breathed it all in, knowing that within a week I’d leave it all behind to make a new home in Philadelphia.

I can tell you where I was the morning of September 11, 2001.

I can tell you how I flipped through the channels of my ancient television in my dorm room, confused by what I was seeing, believing that I’d left on my VCR and was watching some horrible movie.

I can describe how the relief coursed through my veins when I was able to hear my parents voices and confirm that they were alright and wouldn’t be leaving our apartment in downtown Manhattan.

I can tell you how happy I was to learn that my sister and niece never took the PATH train into the World Trade Center that morning, of all mornings, and instead caught a ride into the city.

I can tell you about the total panic and fear that seized my heart and my lungs when I screamed at my sister through the phone, “RUN!!”, when she told me she’d gone back to check on her coworkers on Fulton street, within two blocks of ground zero,  as the reporters on my ancient television warned the threat of collapse was imminent.

I can tell you how my world went sideways, as I sat there surrounded by people I’d just met with tears streaming down my face, watching helplessly as my city lost one of its mighty towers and then lost the second.

In a total of 102 minutes, everything I thought I knew about the world and my place in it was completely obliterated.

I was lucky. I didn’t lose anyone in either of the towers. All of my loved ones who could’ve been caught up in that maelstrom were saved by twists of fate. But everything didn’t survive.

That was the day my innocence died.

That was the day my entire future would be reshaped by a new foreboding of fear. That was the day I fell headfirst into a reality I didn’t want to know. The was the day I experienced true heartbreak for the first time. Everything changed.

11th

I can tell you all of these things and more even now, twelve years later. I imagine I’ll remember every second of that day and the following months for the rest of my life,  much like those who can still tell you where they were when JFK was assassinated, or when the Berlin Wall came down.

There are these moments in time when the earth seemingly stands still. We go through the looking-glass and find our world is upside down. It doesn’t make sense to go back and point fingers at what should have happened or who was culpable.

The attacks happened. That plaza with its beautiful music and the careless expression of life and balance is gone. Nothing will change that.

My initial shock and pain has eased over the years and 9/11 has become a faded memory for some. But each year I go back in time. Back to that day in the plaza. Back to that terrible morning. I allow myself to experience that again because I need to remember what it was like to face the indescribable and to pay homage to what was lost.

I mourn the past and what could have been. I mourn the loss of life and peace. I mourn the way we’ve come to embrace fear and violence in response to threats.

I will always mourn. I will never forget.

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5 New Ways to Cook with Cauliflower

Cauliflower is such a versatile (and healthy!) vegetable. Here are some new ways to enjoy them in your next meal. One of the best things about a clean diet is the opportunity to explore new foods that I would have previously turned down because I just didn’t know any better. Case in point: cauliflower.

I never had any problems with broccoli (what I consider to be cauliflower’s cousin) growing up. I remember eating them as a kid and thinking just how cool it was to be eating “little green trees” as I thought of them back then. But whenever my mom tried to stick a couple pieces of cauliflower on my plate, I’d protest. White trees were simply not cool. Plus they offended my 7-yr old epicurean sensibilities. They just didn’t taste good. Much like I did with beans, I’ll have to pin the blame on the chef (sorry Mom!) and not on the actual food.

Now that I’m in charge of my own grocery shopping and cooking, I’ve been able to revisit foods like cauliflower and give them a makeover. Once I figured out what to do with it, I realized how much I loved those little white trees cauliflower. It hits two of my must-haves right on the bulls-eye: super nutritious and versatile.

Cauliflower and Cruciferous Vegetables

I’ve spent some time talking about cruciferous vegetables in the past, but here’s a refresher.

If I had to suggest only one food to get you started on a healthy diet, it would have to be anything from the cruciferous family. The most popular cruciferous vegetables are kale, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and of course, cauliflower.

These vegetables often get tagged as “superfoods” with good reason. They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. Perhaps the greatest health benefit of cruciferous vegetables is that it may help lower your risk of developing cancer by reducing oxidative stress (when excessive free radicals or unstable molecules develop to the point of damaging the integrity of surrounding cells).

Cauliflower is very high in vitamin C, providing 86% of you DV in one serving! It’s also a great source of vitamin K (20% DV), folate (15% DV), potassium (9% DV) and soluble fiber (8% DV), providing a great nutritional punch to your diet. The high vitamin K count in cauliflower has important anti-inflammatory benefits to the body’s inflammatory response which contributes to an overall decreased risk of cancer. And the amount of fiber in cauliflower makes this a good choice for digestive system support.

We’re right at the beginning of cauliflower season and it will be at peak until fall, so now is the perfect time to pick one up. Note that cauliflower comes in different colors ranging from white to purple, orange, and green.

You can do what with cauliflower?

My eyes were opened to the enormous potential of healthy foods through the genius of sites like Pinterest and Facebook. Not only could I find recipes from my go-to cooking magazines and websites, but now I can see what another blogger is doing with cauliflower in Australia or a chef in India can share their best aloo gobi interpretation. It’s a cook’s dream and it makes healthy eating that much more accessible and appetizing to everyone.

It was through one of my many hours spent wasting time researching online that I found out how versatile cauliflower can be, making it a fantastic staple to have on hand. You can cook it in so many different ways and the somewhat dense texture makes cauliflower an excellent option for Meatless Monday, gluten/grain free or vegetarian/vegan recipes as a hearty substitute for meat and breads.

You’ve likely had cauliflower steamed, sauteed, or maybe even roasted. It’s often cooked in the same fashion as broccoli where it’s cut into florets and seasoned with garlic, oil, salt and pepper. I recently made this wonderful side of roasted cauliflower with pearl onions, cardamom, lemon and parsley. Easy preparation and great flavor combinations are part of the fun of cooking with cauliflower.

Cauliflower with text

But did you know you could mash it? Turn it into rice? Make it into a pizza crust? Serve it as tortillas??? No? Well, neither did I!

Here are 5 new ways to cook with cauliflower:

1. Cauliflower Rice

I decided to try this one myself as an experimental side to a stir-fry dish featuring spring produce that I prepared several weeks ago. I rarely eat any kind of rice anymore and after hearing about the wonders of cauliflower rice (especially from the paleo community) for months on end, I thought it was time to give this a go.

This was my interpretation but you’ll find dozens of recipes online to suit your tastes. The nice thing here is that it’s really easy to switch this up by changing the seasonings as the base recipe remains the same.

To begin, remove the core from the cauliflower and chop the rest into small, evenly-sized florets. Rinse well and set aside.

Chop the florets in small batches in your food processor until you get small rice-like pieces. Heat a tsp of coconut oil in a nonstick frying pan and then add 2 tsps of finely chopped ginger, cook for a minute. Add the cauliflower rice, 2 tbsps of water, and a dash of salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and cook rice for about 4-5 minutes. Done!

cauliflower collage with text

Here’s a look at one way to make cauliflower rice a part of your next meal! You can get the recipe for my Pea Shoot Stir-Fry with Garlic-Ginger Cauliflower Rice here- trust me, it’s good stuff.

stir fry with cauliflower rice

I have yet to try the rest of these options, however they look amazing! I decided to compile some of the best cauliflower recipes I’ve seen from food bloggers and like-minded home cooks who have gotten great feedback from readers. Why not share the blog love by checking out their pages for other fun recipes to inspire you in the kitchen??  :-)

2.  Mashed Cauliflower

Tired of potatoes or looking for a healthier alternative? Give cauliflower a try instead. You can play with the ingredients to get the flavors you want, but check out this recipe to start.

Best Make Ahead Side: Garlic Cauliflower “Mashed Potatoes” – NomNomPaleo.com

One of the best paleo food blogs I’ve found to date, NomNomPaleo offers an incredible selection of recipes covering all the bases with beautiful food photography to boot.

3. Cauliflower Pizza Crust

One of the biggest hurdles for many following grain-free diets is how to enjoy pizza without a wheat-based crust. There are gluten-free pizza crust recipes out there, but if you want to try something much easier and vegetable-based, take a look at this recipe.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza (Gourmet Vegetarian Style) – YourLighterSide.com

I originally found this recipe through another blog I follow, Oh My Veggies, which offered up this great pizza recipe. They linked back to YourLighterSide for the crust and I was happy for it given all the wonderful options and feedback for both pizzas. This site also comes up again further down this list. If you’re in need of more great recipes for Meatless Monday or because you’re following vegetarian or vegan diets, than definitely visit these two blogs!

4. Cauliflower Tortillas

I rarely eat tacos (even though I love them) given the fact that tortillas are usually corn or flour, two things I don’t really eat often or at all. (Corn=GMOs!) So when I saw this recipe pop up on my Facebook feed the other day, I freaked out. Tortillas made from cauliflower? It was a moment.

Cauliflower Tortillas (Paleo, Grain Free, Gluten Free) – SlimPalate.com

This blog is fairly new to me, but I was really impressed to find out the author behind it is a 17 yr-old who lost over 100lbs and decided to share his story and recipes via this site. Truly inspirational!

5. Cauliflower Lasagna Noodles

I have to admit, lasagna is not my favorite dish in the world. But I haven’t shut the door on it completely. I think I just have to find the right combination that works for me. When I experimented with paleo last year, I noticed a number of noodle-alternative recipes that use vegetables as the base. Zucchini and spaghetti squash were by far the most popular choices, but I’ve also seen many of these paleo-friendly lasagna dishes call for cauliflower noodles. I’m intrigued enough to attempt this at least once. How about you?

Cauliflower Noodle Lasagna – YourLighterSide.com

If you spend a little time on this site, you’ll find hundreds of amazing healthy recipes. I really enjoy the author’s sense of humor throughout her posts and the creative spin with classic dishes like these lasagna noodles or her gluten-free/sugar-free girl scout samoa cookies.

Not enough cauliflower for you? There are so many recipes out there to satisfy your cauliflower fix, but here are some more sites for you to explore!

The Secret Life of Cauliflower - Damyhealth.com

Cauliflower Recipes – Cooking Light Magazine

Healthy Cauliflower Recipes and Cooking Tips – Eating Well Magazine

Sources:

Posted in Healthy Recipes, Latest Musings, Meatless Mondays, Nutrition and Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

5 Shades of Apples Part I: A Reinvented Classic

Welcome to Day 1 of Food4ThoughtNYC’s 5 Shades of Apples aka Everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-apples-but-were-too-afraid-to-ask!

If you missed yesterday’s post, my mission statement for this week is to show you just how amazing apples can be by featuring it in five different recipes ranging from sweet to savory. From munching on a Gala to slicing up a Granny Smith for that pie, the apple is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of fruit around. I’ve been counting down the minutes today to rush home, put my pretty apron on, and share this first recipe for the week. You ready? Here we go!

FIRST UP:  APPLE, GOAT CHEESE, AND PECAN PIZZA

I really debated how to start off this week with so many wonderful recipes to choose from, but I decided to go for something classic and turn it on its head; something I love to do if you’ve been paying attention to my blog. I mean, who doesn’t love pizza? Also, it’s Monday and as much as I love a tarte tatin, I couldn’t start by baking. The beginning of the work week calls for comfort food, and there’s no better cure for a ‘case of the Mondays’ than pizza.

So, apple pizza huh? Yes, and having just eaten two slices, let me tell you, it’s DELICIOUS.

Tonight’s apple guest star is the Fuji apple.

Fun Fuji Facts:

  • Fuji apples are actually a cross between two American varieties, the Red Delicious and Virginia Ralls Janet but they were first developed in Japan in 1962 and named after Mount Fuji.
  • They tend to be medium to large in size with a light red/yellow or pink blush against a yellow-green background and lined with red vertical stripes.
  • Fujis are crisp, juicy, sweet, and refreshing with a nice snap when bitten into.
  • Fujis stand up well to cooking due to their thick skin and dense flesh. They can be sauteed, baked, roasted, and boiled.
  • Since they require so much sun to properly ripen, fujis are not grown commercially in northern US which is why my Fujis came from New Zealand.
  • They are also a late-ripening variety and are available in November/December in the Northern Hemisphere and May/June in the Southern Hemisphere.

Now that we’re all a bit more educated on the Fuji, let’s take it for a test drive. It’s pizza time!

Here are my ingredients:

 

Notes and Alterations:  I used store bought multi-grain pizza dough from an Italian bakery in the Bronx, NY and its outstanding, so I figure why mess with perfection by botching my own dough? If you have access to a local Italian bakery, I suggest you do the same. If you’re an adventurous sort or have superhero skills with pizza dough, then I applaud you and I encourage you to have at it.

For all my gluten-free friends out there, try this pizza crust recipe from blogger Karina of glutenfreegoddess.blogsspot.com. Also, Bob’s Red Mill produces gluten-free pizza crust mix if you’re looking for a safe alternative to this wheat-based dough.

I did not have any fresh thyme on hand, so I opted for Herbes de Provence in its place. I love the way it tastes with goat cheese and I thought it’d work nicely with the apples. For those unfamiliar with Herbes de Provence, it’s a dried herb mixture of thyme, savory, fennel, basil, and lavender;  a lovely mix of flavors and a great addition to your spice cabinet.

This recipe is pretty quick, so you want to make sure you have all your ingredients at the ready because you don’t want those apple slices to brown once you start chopping. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.

First step is to prepare your dough. Whether it’s bought or handmade, you should place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel for about an hour. This will make it far more pliable and easier to handle when you roll it out later.

Next, slice up the apples. I cut back on the recipe a bit, so one large Fuji apple was more than enough for a 10-inch pizza. Core the apple, leave the skin on, and slice into fairly thin pieces.

Now it’s time to do what we all dreamed of as kids; play with pizza dough. As nutty as I can be in the kitchen, I don’t quite have the courage to take dough and spin it over my head. I dream of the day when I can pull that off without batting an eye, but for now I’ll settle for the push and spread method with my fingers.

By this point your dough should be easy to handle and still stretchy. Pull out your sheet or tray and get started stretching that dough out into a circle. You can practice stretching it by closing your hands into fists, placing them underneath the dough, and stretching it carefully with your knuckles.  Or if you’d rather hear it from the experts, watch this video clip and see how a professional gets it done. It’s impressive.

I’ve mentioned my love of kitchen gadgets in the past, but there is one gaping hole in my inventory. The pizza stone.  A ceramic or earthenware flat slab that conducts heat from the oven directly into the dough, it’s said that the resulting crust is far superior than what you get from a metal or glass pan. One day I’ll own one and see for myself, but for now I’ll stick with my trusty baking sheet.

Make sure your sheet is lightly oiled before you place the dough. Once it’s patted down into shape, place your apple slices evenly in a single layer and then top with crumbled goat cheese. Sprinkle about 2 tsps of Herbes de Provence on top and then it’s ready to go in the oven!

Note: If you’re vegan, you can substitute the goat cheese for vegan soy cheese. There are a number of options out there, but you can start here with a review of best vegan cheese for pizza and try what works best.

While the pizza is in the oven, make the simple dressing for the arugula. Mix the olive oil, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and honey in a small bowl. I don’t like a heavily dressed salad, so I only added about a tbsp to the arugula and tossed.

The pizza will only take about 10 minutes in the oven. Heads up: the smells coming from your oven will drive you absolutely nuts. Honestly, it was SO good my fingers were itching to take the thing out of the oven before it was ready. Better to wait though. You wouldn’t want to under cook your dough!

Once the goat cheese and crust starts to brown, the pizza is ready to be taken out of the oven.

Quickly toast up about 1/3 cup of chopped pecans by adding them to a small dry pan over high heat for about 30-45 seconds. Sprinkle the toasted pecans first and then top with the dressed arugula. And then that’s it. You’re done! Super easy, right?!

Now you have no reason to really believe me although I hope I’ve garnered at least a bit of trust with the recipes I’ve chosen in the past. This pizza was phenomenal.  The apples were sweet and meshed well with the tanginess of the goat cheese and the peppery bitterness of the arugula. The lavender and mixed herbs from the Herbes de Provence helped balance everything out and gave it a different sweetness as well. It was SO good that I even got my brother to eat a slice. The guy who eyes onions with suspicion. He tried it because he loves me, but he ate it because he actually enjoyed it. That’s a winner in my book!

This was my first time making something savory with apple and I was curious to see how it would all come together. I’m glad to say that this recipe was a great choice to start the week. Not only was it quick, light, and relatively easy, it was also a great showcase for the Fuji apple.  Give it a try the next time you want to make a fast dinner and you have some leftover apples!

Did you know…?

China is the biggest apple growing region in the world, accounting for nearly half of the production of apples globally. Fujis make up about 70% of apple production in China.

Stay tuned for Day 2 of 5 Shades of Apples tomorrow evening….

:-)

Posted in Healthy Recipes, Latest Musings, Meatless Mondays, My Pretty Apron | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments