Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fitness is a hell of a drug.

So this next post has been really fucking hard to write. I did this whole pivoting thing and now somehow I cannot figure out what the hell to spout my mouth off about. Lets try some tidbits of useless information!

Life lately has been a constant struggle to force myself to take rest days, lots of time spent in little cafes working and attempting to write, awkwardly filming myself doing party tricks (aka mastering skills) in the gym, fueling myself with some really good food and dragging my lazy ass out of the house to hang with some brilliant people I get to call friends.

Training has started to consume my mind, body and soul. As soon as I see some sort of progress I yearn for more. I've even starting writing down my workouts, which is pretty out of character for the most unorganized person in the world (me). Also, the four pack I can see on my stomach is totally on its way to becoming a six pack.

I woke up like this.. to go work out

Olympic lifting is bad-fucking-ass. I know, it seems a little weird to spend hours in the gym lifting up pieces of metal and then putting them back down again.. but its addicting. Instead of giggling over SNL skits on YouTube I now find myself googling snatch technique and wondering why my parents didn't put me in weightlifting classes when I was younger.

In exactly one month I hop on a plane to California (don't worry BCN, I'll be back). I've spent more time planning where I'm going to do the Crossfit Open workouts than I have figuring out where I'm staying. #priorities

Hi, my name is Gillian and I'm an addict. You can find me covered in chalk, chewing on a Quest bar and practicing kipping pull-ups, all while discussing the latest WOD and planning my meals for the day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I'm Pivoting: out with the same old healthy living info, in with me on a soapbox wearing spandex.

Ok, so maybe you've seen that Friends episode where they're moving the couch and Ross (or is it Chandler?) is screaming, "PIVOT, PIVOT?" Every damn time I think of that word, that is where my mind goes. However, that pivot was so 1990s. This one is so modern and techie that I'm going to reference HBO's satire of the Googly Apple-verse known as Silicon Valley.

Anyways, in this scene the start-up company that the show is about has just realized that their exact business model has been replicated (and improved upon) by another company. One of the characters suggests that they pivot the concept of their business in order to salvage their dignity and the business itself the night before they present the product at a tech convention. (long story short they didn't have to because they came up with some incredible equation that had something to do with the amount of hand jobs that could potentially be given in an hour and thus resulting in an epiphany for the CEO). 

Basically, I am trying to do something here that someone else is already doing better. The internet is inundated with 'healthy living' blogs, and most of them are pretty similar. So if I am trying to stand out, I need an epic pivot. Telling people that in order to get in shape they need to exercise isn't new information, and the fact is my qualifications are pretty much based on turning myself into gym rat, experimenting with my own body and owning altogether too many pairs of stretchy pants.

 I have spent hours googling varied combinations of the words 'crossfit' 'female' 'lifting' 'lifestyle' 'fitness'  and 'blog'  and mostly what I find are paleo recipe sites, training programs, lifting/bodybuilding forums, and internet arguments about why the creator of Crossfit is fat and how many grams of protein you should eat in a day. While this is super fascinating and the cause for many a lost hour of my own productivity (lets call it research), it all just ends up running together in a giant blob of barbells, grass fed meat and whey protein.

So here's what I'm thinking.

I am an American who ended up living in Barcelona, Spain, partly by accident. I am a workout addict who eats paleo-ish, loves Crossfit, and is trying to figure out the whole Olympic lifting thing. I'm just a little music obsessed, need coffee to survive, and am always trying to figure out how I can eat more vegetables. I am a recovered chubster, converted vegetarian, and accomplished bullshitter. I thrive on sarcasm, almond butter, and sitting around too long in my sweaty gym clothes.

Instead of trying to convince people to start working out or eating better or reducing stress levels by giving them the same ideas they can find on websites written by actual professionals, how about I just share the shit I actually do know something about (my life, duh). Hopefully some of what I have to say will make you think, some will make you laugh, and some will motivate you to do good things for yourself and the people around you.

If not, at least you can tell your friends about the idiot you read about on the internet today.

Your friendly internet idiot.

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's all my responsibility now: What no one tells you about growing up

I've mentioned before I wasn't an athletic kid. Or even really a healthy one. In case I wasn't clear, I was literally that kid that no one wanted to pick for sports teams. Coupled with the fact that I was short, chubby, and slow, I also am not the most coordinated turtle in the pond. Oh and eating healthy? Yeah right. I was once offered $500 to eat a salad- I refused.

this literally didn't happen EVER until I was 19

Instead of continuing my sob story by telling you about how hard it was for me to run a mile, or the countless excuses I managed to come up with to get out of PE, or the times I pretended to be allergic to broccoli, I'll fast forward to now.

I may or may not have turned into one of 'those people.' You know, the ones that plan social events around gym time, and prefer sports bras to regular bras. I've stopped making excuses to get out of exercise, because I know that every time I finish a workout I feel better. My meals are based around how many servings of fruits and vegetables I have had in a day, and salads no longer need to be forced on me.

this is my "I just ran 10 hill sprints" face

The greatest and the most terrible thing about being an adult is that when you grow up, there is no one standing over you to play soccer or eat your vegetables. Work doesn't have mandatory exercise time, and at dinner time no one cares if you get up from the table before your brussels sprouts are gone. You have to schedule your own doctors appointments, and eating ice cream for dinner every night is an actual viable option.

Theoretically this could be lunch every day.

The catch is, just because no one is forcing you take care of yourself doesn't mean it isn't important. So how do you keep your health a priority when its not mandatory? Or maybe, how do you change your mentality to make your health a priority? 

  • Get some skin in the game. Studies show that if there is a risk/reward association with a goal, you are more likely to put in the effort- i.e. if you bet someone you will do something, you're way more likely to do it than if you didn't have the potential to lose something in the process. Keep making excuses to bail on the gym? Put some money on the line or sign up for a challenge that holds you accountable and lets see how often you bail on your workouts. For me, I know how much I am paying for my Crossfit membership.. and its not cheap, so I better get my money's worth!
  • Start with what you can actually handle. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday after work I would head to the gym, hop on the treadmill and complete 20 minutes. I started out with 2 minutes of running, 2 minutes of fast walking, and slowly increased my running time while decreasing my walking time. This is a great way to build endurance, and as you get stronger and faster, you can start to integrate more high-intensity intervals into your training! 
  • Enlist a friend. I know that I tend to just randomly stick my face into whatever I can find in the cupboards at my house- especially in the afternoons, so a friend and I started texting each other everything we eat, and it makes me that much more accountable for my food choices. I know that if I start picking at something, I have to tell someone else about it, and it makes me think about whether I am just eating out of boredom or from real hunger.
Love yourself... treat yourself well! 

Whats your motivation? I started exercising literally because I realized I was the skinniest girl that one of my college boyfriends (terrible person, btw) had dated.. and the other girls were noticeably overweight. Realizing that I fit into his 'type' was enough motivation to ditch the guy and get in the gym! 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Gluten is not my homeboy, and why I jumped off the bread wagon

I almost fell asleep at my desk once. Had it been in the middle of a particularly boring lecture in college, I wouldn't have been so surprised. Since it was in the middle of a busy work day, it was a little more alarming! I averaged 7-8 hours a night of sleep, I wasn't hungover or sick, and I exercised regularly, but I still couldn't shake the feeling of exhaustion throughout the day. After a couple weeks of feeling absolutely drained of energy, I decided to figure out what the hell was going on.

This guy knows how I felt.

Cue Mr. Google. 

You know how you should never google your symptoms, because the internet will ALWAYS tell you you're going to die? After a little poking around, I narrowed my potential ailments down to a brain tumor, mononucleosis, anemia, or a gluten intolerance. Always game for a challenge, I figured I might just try cutting gluten out of my diet completely for a week or two and see what happened. If I felt the same, it was back on the bread. If things changed for the better, I might as well keep going!

I ate more veggies and fruit, and replaced sandwiches with salads.
Three days in, I felt freakin' amazing. I was able to cut back on my coffee intake, stopped yelling at my coworkers for talking to me too early in the morning, ceased looking for hiding places so I could take my  afternoon nap, and my workouts felt better than ever. Yeah, it kinda sucked not to be able to have a wrap for lunch anymore or a piece of toast for breakfast, but the reality was, I felt great.

I asked my doctor if I should get tested for a gluten allergy, and she told me it didn't really matter, and that a gluten allergy (unless severe) is unlikely to show up on a test- if what I was doing helped whatever symptoms I was experiencing, then I should continue.

Yes, gluten free mustache cookies do exist, and they are delicious!

So for those of you wondering.. No, I have no idea if I am really, biologically allergic to or intolerant of gluten. Yes, I do know what gluten is (unlike these people) and yes, I am sure I don't just want 'a little bit' of whatever amazing gluten filled food you are currently enjoying. After testing myself again and again, one thing is clear- I feel better when I don't consume wheat or gluten containing products. 

Now I live in Spain, where pretty much everything revolves around bread. People's jaws drop in horror when I tell them that I don't eat gluten, and they almost pass out when I explain that I can't drink beer either. The path of least resistance might be to give in, have a little bit of bread, drink a beer or two, but I don't cave. I choose feeling good when I wake up in the morning, and when I go to sleep at night.. and lets be fair, cava is tastier anyways. 

**I am not advocating that everyone out there cut gluten out of their diets- for some people, it won't actually help anything, and for others, its not worth mourning the loss of toast. What I am advocating is that we start to listen to our bodies- if you feel sluggish, constipated, have constant heartburn, headaches or terrible gas- you might not be dying of a brain tumor either.. you might just need to look at what you're eating!**

Has anyone else tried experimenting with their diet? Did you find it was easy/difficult? What food could you 'never live without?'

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why is exercise actually important and how can it affect my life?

For me, exercise is important because my daily workout is the time in which I feel the most powerful. The last few months have been consumed by Crossfit workouts and weight lifting- both of which intimidate a lot of people, and are the butt of many a fitness criticism. Over the last 7 years, I have tried most of the workouts out there- from yoga to barre to TRX to long distance running, and nothing makes me feel better about myself than regular Crossfit classes and weight lifting.

If you haven't heard of Crossfit, it has become very popular over the last 10 years as a form of high intensity training combining gymnastic movements, weightlifting, bodyweight movements and cardio. The gyms are called 'boxes' and can now be found worldwide. It is often condemned for the perceived potential for injury- and I won't pretend that there isn't a risk associated with the sport- or ANY sport for that matter. There is risk associated with pretty much everything we do- I am probably just as likely to trip and eat it running or fall down the stairs as I am to sustain a injury doing Crossfit if I am performing the movements correctly. (That said, as with any exercise program, ask for help when you need it!)
Some of the faces I can't wait to see
when I head to the gym

Weight lifting also gets a bad rap in some spheres of the fitness world- supposedly it makes girls 'big' and 'manly' so many women forgo the heavy barbells and low reps for light weights and high rep workouts. Yes, when you break down a muscle by lifting heavy weights, it will grow bigger, and women that specifically train for strength are likely to have large muscles. The ladies you see with killer quads and crazy abs work REALLY REALLY hard to get that fit. Lifting a couple of days a week or taking a few Crossfit classes will not make you bulk up like that! It has been proven, however, that building lean muscle mass also helps your body to burn more fat…. raise your hand if you are anti-fat-burning! No one? Yep. Thought so.

The point of this isn't to get you hooked on weight lifting or Crossfit- the point is that I have managed to find a form of exercise that I LOVE. That I look forward to almost every day, and that has helped me develop some great friendships and a support group that pushes me to be better every time I show up. This is how exercise has affected MY life. How can it affect yours?

flexibility and strength thanks to climbing, yoga and Crossfit

  • You'll look better. Lets not beat around the bush here, most of us work out to improve our physical appearance (at least to start out!). 
  • You will be happier. Exercise=endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. (And happy people just don't kill their husbands.- Legally Blonde)
  • It is a great form of 'me time'. Many of us are so busy that we don't make time for ourselves, and our wellbeing suffers because of it. A walk, run, bike ride or yoga session is a great way to spend time with yourself.
  • You will live longer. It's science.. and you can't argue with science. 

So now I've laid out this super compelling argument for WHY you should exercise, how do you actually do it? 
  • Literally put on a pair of shoes and go for a walk, jog or run. 
  • Check out local gyms and fitness studios- many offer discounted or free passes to potential members/clients.
  • Sign up for a personal (or group) training session. Although they can be pricy, this is a fantastic way to start out and get a great base of knowledge as far as proper movement patterns, exercise ideas and a program that works for your fitness level, schedule and goals. 
  • Check out the internet- distance coaching and personalized programs are available for very reasonable prices online! 

I would never have ended up here if I didn't sweat my ass off hiking up a mountain...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fun size is really no fun at all- how to find what works for your level of willpower

FACT. I really like snacks. Crunchy, salty, sweet, chewy… all of those delicious adjectives that we are told time and time again to avoid. Real talk: I once survived almost an entire weekend on chips and salsa.

Yeah, I know, there are all these fitness and health people out there that are like "listen to your body," "stop when you feel 80% full," "if you portion out your food you won't be tempted to go back for more/kill your firstborn/yell at the cat"… uh, yeah, my body usually tells me I totally need more cookies even when I'm 97% full.

I don't particularly think it is difficult to get yourself on the healthy eating train- it really just starts with more unprocessed, real food and less manufactured, packaged crap- but it can be REALLY hard to stay on it sometimes. However, I've found some tricks that work for me and can help keep you in the flow.

1) Don't keep that shit in the house. If you know how hard it is for you to stop after a 1 oz serving of tortilla chips (1 oz… what is that, like 5 chips?), don't buy them. Live with other people that insist on keeping them fully stocked at all times? Ask that your roommates/loved ones keep your trigger foods on a high shelf where you can't see them, or in a cupboard where you don't have any of your own food. The 'out of sight, out of mind' trick is way more likely to succeed than the 'keep them in full sight and try not to think about how much you want them trick.'

2) Fill up on other stuff. If I eat a meal packed with veggies, protein and healthy fats and follow that up with fruit as a dessert, there literally isn't any space left for crap food. Try 'crowding out' foods you are trying to avoid. For example, my absolute favorite lunch right now is a giant bowl filled with roasted beets, bell pepper, avocado (healthy fat=key to satiation), tomato, carrot, spinach and protein (either tuna or chicken usually). I generally finish that off with an apple or persimmon straight from the fridge.. and once I'm done, I literally can't think about putting anything else in my mouth. (Don't like salad? Try soup, a veggie stir fry or add extra vegetables to a pasta sauce and serve it over spaghetti squash!)

3) Take a few minutes to think. If you are in the grocery store, read before you put things in your grocery basket. I usually read the whole label on the package before I decide if I am going to buy something debatable. At home and can't stop thinking about that bar of chocolate? Take 5 minutes, drink a glass of water, and think about what you really want. If you legitimately want a piece of chocolate- eat it. The idea isn't to constantly deprive yourself of things you really want, but to make more conscious decisions about what we put in our bodies.

4) Distract yourself. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat on my couch, thinking about a snack that I know is just inside the kitchen cupboard, only to start doing something else and then realize hours later that I completely forgot about said snack. Eating when you're bored is probably one of the easiest ways to sabotage yourself… and one of the hardest things to teach yourself not to do. Usually I try browsing Spotify for new music, going for a walk, picking up a book, or googling crossfit or lifting or nutrition blogs (if you're into other things, google that. Unless you like pictures of abs.)

5) Find other things you like to eat. I know, a carrot stick is never going to replace a tortilla chip. So don't try to 'replace' things. Just find other, healthier, stuff you like to eat, and keep that handy in your kitchen. Really like sweet things? Try eating a date or an apple instead of a cookie or chocolate. Into crunchy and salty? Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes can make killer chips. I've found that full fat greek yogurt with cinnamon can be very successful at getting rid of my sugar cravings, and salted tahini with a little bit of honey is perfect for when I want something sweet and salty.

Any tips of your own? Any of this helpful for you? Think I'm full of shit? Let me know!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jumping on the bandwagon.. in a 'sane' way

As I mentioned in my first post, I didn't grow up playing sports or exercising as a habit, and my transition to the lifestyle I live now didn't happen overnight. Like anything worth doing, it takes time. This is why clip on hair extensions generally look terrible and baked sweet potatoes taste better than microwaved ones. You can't argue with that logic.. its science.

Real hair- that took me 10+ years to grow… and only 2 minutes to chop off.

So then what? Throw out everything in your refrigerator and replace it only with chicken and broccoli? Head to the gym and try squatting 100 lbs? Uh, no. Lifestyle change is gradual- even if you decide to clean out your whole kitchen today and commit to 30-60 minutes of daily exercise from now on you won't see results overnight, and you will probably burn yourself out- body and mind. If you go from eating out most meals to attempting to prepare every meal yourself overnight chances are you'll frustrated, overwhelmed and picking up the phone for Chinese takeout.

Trust me, even top chefs aren't eating homemade paella for every meal

Let's think about how to start this change out in a way that is sustainable for you and your lifestyle. For me, I slowly started making better food choices. I was in college, and had a range of choice from tacos to pizza to a salad bar- I started asking for a grilled chicken breast instead of a grilled cheese, and then headed to the salad bar to fill up on veggies. Workouts were scheduled on days that made sense- if I had an early class there was no way I would head to the gym in the morning. I committed to two days a week at a bootcamp class I loved.

Here are some ideas to get the change started:

  • Re-evaluate your drinks. A glass of juice can be switched for whole fruit. Try adding honey to your coffee instead of 3 pumps of vanilla flavoring. Try making your own soda with sparkling water and just a touch of juice.
  • Instead of a sandwich, try a salad. Think of it as the insides of a sandwich, but with WAY more vegetables. If you really want some bread, try having a smaller piece on the side with some real butter or olive oil. Better yet, try avocado (nature's butter).
  • Craving something sweet? Try eating a date or a piece of fruit. My favorite after lunch snack is a cold apple straight from the fridge or a persimmon (if they're in season). 
  • Ask a friend to take a workout class with you, or better yet, ask them to take you to their favorite fitness class. You are way less likely to skip it if you know someone is counting on you, and you might find an activity you love!
  • Download a podcast or book on tape and make a deal with yourself- you only get to listen to it if you go for a walk or jog.
  • Instead of brunch/lunch/drinks with a friend, get a coffee or tea and go for a walk (also a great way to save money!)
and hiking.. both more fun with friends!

Remember- not all the things work for all the people. It is totally OK if you really don't enjoy exercising with other people, or if hiking sounds like torture- the point is to give something new a try that can help you get started (or continue) on your path to health. I even caved in and went to not one but two bikram yoga classes (never to return again), and finally opened my eyes to the joy that is a ripe avocado after years of believing I didn't like them. Obviously, there are hundreds of other ways to start to change the way you treat yourself and the way you view your health- these are just a few of my favorites! Check out these websites for some more great ideas:

Mind Body Green
HuffPost Health