Pick your battles

I’ve tried a lot of fitness-y things over the past 3-4 years. One of my personal philosophies in life is that I’ll try anything twice, because one time is just not enough to conclusively decide that you hate something. It’s that second, third, and fourth attempt that pushes you further outside of your comfort zone, past the initial gut reaction to a place where you can actually assess if this is something you might grow to love. (For the record, I feel this way about pretty much everything in life – food, books, travel destinations. That first-time reaction only tells a very small part of the story, and you need to give everything at least a second shot before making a final decision.)

Sometimes this philosophy helps me out. For one example, consider my GHD panic, documented in my last post. I went from actual tears-in-my-eyes panic over the machine, to grudging respect, to now actually loving the equipment. I had a similar moment with handstands last night at Crossfit.

The Crossfit box I go to (Crossfit Iron Spider in Salem, MA – not remotely convenient to where I live or work, but I absolutely adore the coaches and the members, so I’m hooked and I tolerate the traffic. Seriously, it’s that good.) posts the WODs on their website the night before, and on Monday night, I saw that handstands were on the menu for Tuesday’s workout. Bear in mind this was my first day back at the gym after eight days off, so I was already a little skeptical about how the workout would go. Throw in handstands, and I started talking myself out of the workout before it had even started.

Turns out handstands aren’t terrible. Now, I didn’t actually manage a real handstand. I did the modified wall walk-up, which isn’t nearly as awful as it sounds, aside from the fact that I was walking up a whiteboard wall which doesn’t exactly have traction or grip. The problem, though, is that my upper body is my weakest area, and I’m not exactly a petite individual. Supporting my weight on my arms? It’s a tricky situation. I really struggled with getting my body up to near-vertical against the wall, because while I could walk my legs up without any trouble, when the time came to move my hands in closer, I just couldn’t do it. It’s partially a strength issue and partially a mental block – I’m convinced that the second I try to move one hand closer, thereby shifting all my weight to the other hand, I’m going to come crashing down face-first onto the floor. It needs work – a LOT of work. But I’m excited to keep working on it. I expected to hate everything about the handstands, but instead it has become another item to conquer as I keep working out at the box.

Every coin has a flip side, though, and that brings me to the item that I think I need to break up with once and for all: running.

Here’s the thing – when I say I hate running, it’s not because I’m slow, or because I’m not good at it. I genuinely hate everything about it. Nothing causes more knee pain than running. Last night’s WOD incorporated 100ft jogs in between activities, so I probably ran just around a quarter of a mile total over the course of the workout – and today I brought an ice pack to work to keep on my knees because they’re so angry with me. I also just can’t find the mental peace, the “runner’s high,” that so many people claim exists. Most of the time I find workouts almost therapeutic. I zone out, I find peace, I finally shut up all the voices in my head. Yoga class, spin class, alone at the squat rack – you name it, I will find it calming. Except for running. The entire time I’m running, the voices in my head scream at me. “We HATE this. This is TERRIBLE. This HURTS. WHY are you doing this?”

There’s this sense that everyone who wants to be fit should also be a runner. I caved to the pressure, too – witness the great half marathon debacle of 2015. I felt like distance running was something I HAD to do if I was going to legitimately call myself someone who’s interested in fitness.

Guess what? That’s just not true. I could put my running sneakers away and never touch them again and still be fit. I actually GAINED weight while I was training for my half marathon, because running left my body so sore and beat-up that I didn’t have the stamina to cross-train or do any of the things I really loved to do. Give me a Soul Cycle class where I’m actually enjoying pushing myself to improve. Throw me on an erg and let me row a 5K. I’ll happily do incline intervals on the treadmill as long as I don’t have to go over 3mph, and I’ll hike in the great outdoors all day long, as long as you give me a map and some bug spray. But running? Nah. I’m good.

So sorry, running, I’m just not that into you. I’ll have to check in with you from time to time when you end up in a WOD, but I’m not going to seek you out anytime soon. Life’s too short to waste time on something I hate, and there are too many other opportunities that I haven’t tried yet.

Conquering my GHD panic

One of the tools I’ve been using to stay positive over the past few weeks has been celebrating every improvement I can mark in my workouts. Whenever I feel like quitting or giving up during an especially intense session, I force those weaker voices to shut up, and instead I repeat to myself, “You couldn’t do this a year ago. You are getting stronger every day. You are improving and changing and that is awesome. Keep moving forward.”

It’s working. I haven’t quit on a workout. I’ve pushed myself and I’ve tried things. It’s pretty awesome. And in light of that, I’m going to try to be better about documenting these successes in blog format.

That brings me to today’s post. Meet the GHD:

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This piece of equipment, the Glute & Ham Developer (hence, GHD) was my nemesis. We use it for two things at Crossfit: sit ups and back extensions. The GHD sit up is pretty straightforward. You face the ceiling, with your feet in the foot rests, and your hips on the larger pads, and you extend as far back as you can. People with better core strength and back flexibility than I possess are able to extend all the way back and touch the floor before hinging up into a sit up. Right now, I’m just past parallel, but hoping to get better. The sit ups aren’t bad – they’re actually kind of fun once you get used to them! – and they really do get at your abs. We did 5 sets of 15 in Thursday’s WOD, and between that and Friday morning’s Soul Cycle class, it still hurts to laugh today.

Back extensions, however, are a WHOLE other story.

To do a back extension, you flip over. Feet are still in the grips, hips are still on the pads, but you’re facing the floor. You actually want your hip joins to be just past the pads, so that you can freely hinge down until your body is perpendicular to the GHD, and then you use your back muscles to pull yourself back up to parallel.

It. Is. Terrifying.

The first time we had GHD back extensions in a WOD, about 2 months ago, I had a full blown panic attack. I got onto the equipment, I looked down at the floor, and I literally felt all of the air leave my chest. I refused to let go of the handles and got off the machine as quickly as I could, while trying to hold back the tears that were threatening. I didn’t trust the equipment to hold me; over and over in my head I saw a loop of my face hitting the floor in some spectacular collapse. Logically I knew that wouldn’t happen, but I couldn’t get past that irrational fear. I begged the coach for a modification and I avoided looking directly at the equipment for weeks afterwards.

Saturday, after practicing snatches for the majority of the beginners’ olympic lifting course – a mandatory element to the beginners’ Crossfit program at my box, and one that I really appreciate, as it teaches form and ensures we don’t hurt ourselves in the WODs – there was one line of instructions on the board:

“Back extension, 3×10”

“Maybe there’s some other way of doing back extensions,” I thought. “It doesn’t say GHD… it must mean something else.” I ignored it as long as possible, but come the last 10 minutes of class, I had to face my fears. It was time. I needed to get on that equipment and force myself through those sets.

Turns out it’s not all that bad – it’s actually kind of fun once you get going. I’m not going to lie, it’s still a little freaky when I first get on the stupid thing, but I’ve gotten better at telling the voices in my head to STFU while I get through my workout. I was so stinking proud of myself after banging out those three sets, with nary a tear or a panic attack in sight.

Progress takes a lot of forms. This week, my progress came in the form of conquering that stupid equipment torture device.

Now, if only I could make the jump rope my bitch…

What I Ate Wednesday, Post-Vacation Edition

Happy hump day! I got back from San Francisco on Monday night, and am still trying to catch up on real life. I worked from home yesterday to catch up on email, and I devoted a good chunk of time last night to grocery shopping and meal prepping for the rest of the week. I’ve got ten days between my SF trip and my next vacation, so I’m focusing on maintaining a regular exercise routine and keeping my meals healthy and clean. In that light, it seemed like today was a good time for another What I Ate Wednesday post!WIAW banner

Breakfast:choco-coco-nana oatsI decided to make a few jars of overnight oats for the rest of the week. This is my FAVORITE oats recipe – it tastes like such a treat but has a good mix of protein and carbs. I didn’t take a picture, partially because I was in a rush this morning and partially because this recipe just doesn’t photograph that well, but trust me, it’s delicious. This recipe is for one jar, but can easily be adapted if you want to make multiple jars in advance, like I did for the three remaining work days this week.

I also had cold brew coffee to jump start my day. I began making cold brew at home a few months ago and trust me when I tell you, it is a game changer. I would happily provide instructions for my process, but my friend K has already done the honors. She was super skeptical when I first described how I make my cold brew (… it involves a nylon sock, DON’T JUDGE IT TIL YOU TRY IT) but once she tasted the results she was sold. Check out her post on the process! I also buy sugar free vanilla syrup to add to it at home and with a splash of milk added as well, it tastes just as good as any Starbucks offering at a fraction of the price!

Lunch: IMG_4482This is not the most attractive lunch to look at, but it sure does taste good! I love how great the fresh produce is right now, so I  loaded my salad up with lots of veggies for crunch and flavor – multi colored peppers, LOTS of cucumbers (my fave!), some gorgeous tomatoes (there’s nothing better than August tomatoes, you’ll never convince me otherwise), all topped with a light dressing. I grilled up some chicken to go with it. Normally I prefer to marinate my chicken myself, but I was crunched for time this week, so I kept it simple with Purdue’s Perfect Portions Italian Chicken Breast. The convenience of the pre-portioned packages can’t be beat, and this marinade is pretty tasty. Again, not my preferred meat option, but sometimes I have to go the convenient route in order to keep my food choices on point.

Afternoon snack:FullSizeRender (1) I bought a juicer a few months ago, and it has seriously changed my life. I was spending up to $10 at a time for green juices, either prepackaged at the store or at a local juice bar, and the expenses were really adding up. I received a gift card to Bloomingdale’s for my birthday, and when I saw that they had the Breville Multi-Speed Juice Fountain on sale, I decided to treat myself. Have you seen the documentary “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead”? It’s available on Netflix, and this is the juicer used by the subject of the documentary, so I figured it was a pretty safe bet. It’s been great for me so far and I’m pleasantly surprised at how quickly I can juice enough produce for a few days’ worth of juices. Clean up isn’t ideal, but the whole process (prepping produce, juicing, and cleanup) takes less than 20 minutes, and I’m saving money in the long run while also doing a good deed for my body. Today’s juice includes cucumber, celery, green apple, kale, ginger, and lemon juice – yum!

Dinner: My evening is pretty jammed today! I’m taking a double at Studio Poise tonight – first, Poise Xpress, followed by Hip Hop Flow yoga to unwind. After getting my sweat on, I’ve got book club to look forward to with some of my favorite ladies. This is a great way to spend an evening, but it’s not exactly conducive to having a well-balanced meal! I don’t like to eat anything too heavy before working out, and I won’t feel like a big dinner after yoga, so I packed some snacks to nosh on throughout the evening.FullSizeRender (2) I’ve got some fresh pineapple & berries, a container of Dannon’s Oikos Zero yogurt (my new favorite yogurt – the texture is awesome!), and the tasty treat pictured here. Cottage cheese is a personal favorite snack, and today I stirred some homemade pesto in for extra flavor. Served alongside some cherry tomatoes and a serving of Triscuit Minis, and I know this will be the perfect snack to munch on while chatting about this month’s book selection! Pro tip: the nutrition for a serving of these mini Triscuits is almost exactly the same as a serving of the regular version, but the mini serving is 28 crackers, while the regulars only allow 6. For a snack like this, I like tricking my brain into thinking I’m eating more by having the crackers in a smaller size.

What are some of the healthy meals you’re cooking up this week? How do you help yourself recover physically and mentally after a vacation?

Note: Any brands mentioned in this post are there simply because I’m a fan! I was not paid to mention any of these brands, and my opinions are 100% my own. 

Web Roundup 2

It gets hard to blog about fitness when you’re buried under snow drifts and feel like the world is ending. Did you guys know that Boston is buried under unprecedented amounts of snow right now, with more in the forecast? Yeah, that’s a thing. My workouts lately have consisted of shoveling, shoveling, and more shoveling. Lifting and tossing shovels of snow onto snow piles that are taller than you is a killer abs and oblique workout, in case you were wondering. I’ve been taking lots of personal days to take advantage of the snow, and have to say that the skiing this year is fantastic, so as long as I focus on that I don’t get too cranky. I’m heading out to Stratton this weekend for a few more days, and I’ll be packing lots of technical base layers, because the projected high for Sunday is negative 24 degrees with wind chill. That’s… I don’t even know. I don’t think those are real numbers. I can’t process it.

Anyway, sorry again for the lack of blogging. On top of the weather nightmare, which has resulted in lots of fitness class cancellations, I had to have another series of biopsies this week after seeing my dermatologist. She took samples from two spots on my neck – one possible basal cell, another showing possible signs of melanoma – and the positioning of the spots meant that wearing any bra, let alone a sports bra, was pretty much impossible. Without a reliable way to rein in the girls, there wouldn’t be any cardio for me for a few days while the biopsies heal. Luckily, I got the results back (in record time – props to the dermatology lab at Brigham & Womens!) and both spots are benign, so I have that good news to carry me into the weekend.

Since I don’t have much original content to share, I want to instead point you to some of the awesome things floating around out there on the interwebs these past few weeks. Without further ado, here’s my latest installment of the best of the web!

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What’s the true cost of industrialized meat production? The New York Times published an investigation into research practices overseen by the Department of Agriculture. Warning: this article is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it does expose some truly repulsive practices in pursuit of maximizing profits. Just another argument in favor of seeking out humane sources for meat- investigate your local farms!

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I really, really can’t stand the term “diet.” I haven’t written much about it on this blog, but anytime I’ve tried to hold myself to a restrictive diet – the Jenny Craig program, Atkins, Paleo, whatever – it hasn’t ended well. Imposing too many rules ends up really messing with my head and I find that I set myself up for failure, and I’ve had much more success just seeking for balance and overall healthier choices in my eating and in my activities. Dr. Linda Shanti over at Eating Disorders Blogs tackled this subject last year; a friend of mine shared the link on Facebook and I wanted to pass it along. Dr. Shanti writes about how diets contribute to disordered eating, and I personally found her writing to be a helpful perspective that resonated strongly with my own experiences.

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I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I am still very much an aspiring runner. I’ve done a few races, and I’ve committed to running a half marathon in October 2015, but I’m still getting the hang of the right way to train. Amanda Brooks recently shared some tips for post-run stretching over at her blog, Run to the Finish, and I bookmarked it as a handy resource. I all to often feel tempted to skip the post-run aftercare, but as I start training for longer distances I know that it’s going to be more important than ever to take care of my body and take the necessary steps to keep everything in working order. This post focuses on IT bands and hips, which is where I’ve had tightness and soreness in the past after races, so it’s a good thing for me to understand!

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Breakfast is the most challenging meal of the day for me. I’m always in a rush to get out the door. Smoothies are a go-to in warmer months, but with the winter tundra greeting me every morning, the last thing I want is to be holding a frozen beverage as I’m heading to work. The MyFitnessPal blog recently shared a post with fifteen healthy breakfast options for on-the-go people, and it instantly became a Pinterest staple. There’s a great variety represented in this post – sweet and savory, eggs, oatmeals, yogurt options, you name it. I know that when I fall into a rut of having the same thing every day, I’m more likely to feel tempted to splurge on a bagel or muffin from the coffee shop when I start to feel bored. Make sure to switch up your meals often so that you keep a rotation of fresh, healthy foods in your diet!

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Did I mention that I live in Boston? Specifically in the band along the coast that keeps getting hit hardest in all of these storms? I’ve been working from home a lot, and my local fitness studios have been forced to cancel classes, so that has meant a lot of at-home workouts. Shoveling has provided the bulk of my cardio, but a girl needs some variety. I have a lot of DVDs to choose from but sometimes I like to add something new into the mix! This FitSugar video is a forty-minute follow along bodyweight workout that doesn’t require any equipment and doesn’t take up a ton of space. It’s definitely getting added to my rotation of hotel workouts for when I’m traveling, too!

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How do you stay active when you’re snowed in? Any tips for surviving the winter storm blues? 

Blizzard-ready fitness

In case you haven’t heard, or aren’t fortunate enough to live in New England, we got walloped with one heck of a winter storm yesterday. Over two feet of snow fell according to the official totals, but I was wading through snow that came up to mid-hip yesterday, so I’m convinced the actual total was closer to three feet. Either way, the storm led to some serious cabin fever.

Winter storms make me long for hot cocoa, rich and hearty stews, and curling up with some whiskey and a good book. Unfortunately, none of those things are helping me to reach my wellness goals! I will admit that I indulged in a mug of cocoa spiked with some Bailey’s after my shoveling adventures yesterday, but otherwise I’ve tried really hard to keep up with my fitness goals during the past 48 hours of being stuck at home. I figured I’d share some of my strategies to help myself succeed through this storm!

Stock up on healthy groceries. Yes, like everyone else in New England, I rushed to the grocery store on Monday to make sure I had enough food to last through the storm. I had to have options on hand that didn’t require cooking in case we lost power, and I needed to make sure I had some basics ready to go. I picked up some Special K cereal (I love the Vanilla Almond flavor) and a few extra containers of coconut milk for a healthy breakfast option, and I got some whole grain bread, low sodium turkey, and part-skim cheese for sandwich fixins. I knew that I’d want something to snack on, so I turned to the chip aisle with a critical eye, and was super excited to find this Vanilla Caramel Popcorn. I love popcorn and usually air pop it myself, but this was a good backup in case we lost power – and it’s pretty low in sugar, so it didn’t have that overly sweet kettle corn taste that I try to avoid. Definitely recommend!

Don’t skip your workout. It’s really tempting to stay curled up in sweats under a blanket, but I know that I always feel better when I get in my workout for the day. I had to cancel my planned yoga class on Monday in order to get home before the storm, but I was still feeling pretty achy after this past weekend’s ski outing, so I came home and did 45 minutes of yoga on my own. I’m still not a master yogi by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have enough experience at this point that I feel like I can put together a series of sun salutations and basic poses without needing to follow a DVD. Once the storm actually hit, shoveling turned out to be quite enough of a workout for me! Clearing out the driveway, the walkway, and our stairs took several hours. We do have a snowblower, but I did the walkways by hand, and also had to dig out our cars. Be careful when shoveling, and always remember not to overdo it! Be careful not to overload your shovel when lifting snow, and always keep your knees bent. Also, don’t jump right into shoveling – warm up beforehand with some light stretching and easy cardio, like a walk around the block, to warm up your muscles and help prevent injury.

It’s okay to indulge – but be smart about it! I love to bake, and whenever I’m stuck at home during a storm, the urge to have something delicious in the oven becomes too strong to ignore. This week, I had some bananas that were at the “bake me or toss me” point of ripeness, so I made banana bread. I used whole wheat flour, added some low-sugar dried cranberries and toasted pecans to the batter, and topped it all with a steel cut oatmeal crumble for some added crunch and an extra source of whole grains. The treat came out great, and I felt like I was indulging, but because I had made smart swaps for some of the ingredients, I felt less guilty about my treat.

Sometimes being a kid is the best way to feel great! I admit, when the neighborhood kids were passing by me carrying their sleds, while I was stuck shoveling out my cars, I felt some serious jealousy. I wanted nothing more than to toss aside the shovel and join them! Unfortunately, I don’t own a sled anymore, otherwise I can’t say that I wouldn’t have tagged along. I couldn’t resist the desire to get out and romp in the snow, though, so I took my dog out yesterday afternoon for some winter playtime. Unfortunately he’s not the biggest fan of this weather… all those videos you see online of dogs leaping playfully through the snow banks? Yeah, not so much with my dog. He wanted the whole thing to be over before it had even really begun. But I had a blast out there, diving into snow drifts, making snow angels, climbing over the piles of snow that were taller than I am – and it definitely counts as cardio! The mood lift also counts toward my overall wellness goal, trust me.

I know a lot of New Englanders are grumbling and complaining about this storm, but honestly, I’m loving it. I love living in the Boston area, winters and all! I’m also hoping that this storm is a sign of more to come, because I’d really like to use my Stratton season pass to ski straight through April!

What tips do you swear by to survive winter storms? 

Studio Review: Vital Cycle, Saugus, MA

I love spinning, but I’ve struggled with finding a studio that is conveniently located and close to home. For a few years I kept my membership at Boston Sports Club to take advantage of their spin classes, but I didn’t really love the instructors and over time I realized that I preferred small, locally owned studios instead of the large chain gym experience. I’ve bounced around to a few studios scattered across the North Shore of Massachusetts but either found that they were too far away to be convenient or that they were too expensive to stick with for the long term.

Luckily, I recently discovered Vital Cycle, located on Route 1 South in Saugus, MA. This location is super convenient to my house, and also only about 10 minutes away from my home-away-from-home, Studio Poise. The studio is tucked out of sight and doesn’t have prominent signage, so I didn’t notice it when it first opened. For locals, it’s in the same building as Roller World – you can’t really see the studio from the highway, but it’s very easy to spot once you pull into the parking lot.

Vital Cycle logo, from the Vital Cycle website

 

I’ve taken a handful of classes at the studio, so it felt like a good time to share a review.

The pros…

  • Large, roomy studio space. I cannot stand when spinning studios try to cram too many bikes into a small room. There’s nothing I hate more than being too close to my neighbors when I’m trying to get my sweat on – I really value my personal space! The spinning studio here is a large space and there’s plenty of room between bikes. I can stretch my arms out between rides without worrying that I’m going to smack a neighbor. There’s a mirror that runs the width of the room so you can check your form, which I appreciate, and the lighting is great – instructors have the ability to change the lighting levels through the class and there are specialty colored lights to help keep the energy levels up.
  • Ability to reserve a specific bike. When you go for your first ride, the instructor helps to get your bike set up for you and notes your settings on a small client card. For future visits, you reserve a specific bike and the Vital Cycle staff has the bike set up and ready to go when you get there for class. This is such a great perk! I like being able to reserve placement in the class (let’s be real, we all have our favorite spots!) and I appreciate that the bike is ready to go for me in case I hit traffic or am running late.
  • New bikes. Vital Cycle uses the Spinner Blade ION bikes. Each bike is outfitted with a monitor that tells your your RPM and your power, which brings me to my next point…
  • SpinPower system. Vital Cycle tracks SpinPower throughout the class and shows the group’s output on monitors at the front of the room. The instructors use these monitors throughout the class to make sure the group is hitting the appropriate RPM and pushing hard enough. The monitors can also show how each individual ranks against the rest of the class, a feature that I first experienced when I took a class at Flywheel. I’m a super competitive individual, so I love that extra incentive to push harder and beat the rest of the class. Vital Cycle also sends you an email at the end of each class with your stats, and you can log into your account on their website to track your progress over time.
  • Excellent promotional offerings. Vital Cycle currently offers the first week of rides free to new customers, which is a great way to try out the studio risk-free. The studio also offers free rides when you bring a friend to try a class, so I’ve been coaxing my friends into fit dates with me! They also are currently offering a Groupon deal, but I’m not sure how long that will last, so snap it up now – it’s an excellent price! I bought the 5 class option because I hadn’t yet tried the studio, and now I’m kicking myself for not getting the 10 class option instead.
  • Fun themed rides and special offerings. Periodically the studio offers special classes. I took a 90s themed ride which was a blast, and I also loved the Thanksgiving morning class offerings. It’s an extra little bonus that helps to keep customers engaged.

The cons…

  • Limited class options. There are anywhere from 2 to 4 classes offered on any given day. There aren’t a ton of early morning classes, so I haven’t been able to fit in a class before work. I’ve stuck mostly with evening classes, but I do wish there were more late evening options. At present, the latest class begins at 6:30. Since the studio is still so new, I’m hoping their class offerings expand as classes get busier.
  • Parking can be tricky in the evenings. As I mentioned, the studio shares a parking lot with the Roller World facility next door. Depending on what’s happening at the rink, parking can be a little bit nuts.
  • Water for purchase only. I have gotten really spoiled by studios that have water filters so that clients can refill their reusable water bottles with cold, filtered water. Vital Cycle does have water for purchase, but I try not to drink bottled water, so I’d love to see them invest in a filter at some point.
  • No monthly class options. At present, Vital Cycle only offers a pay-by-ride system. Since spinning is a supplementary workout for me, this isn’t really a huge negative for me, but the current pricing wouldn’t be sustainable for me personally if I wanted to make this studio my primary workout location.
  • Still working out the technology kinks. My first class at the studio, there were recurring problems with the SpinPower displays at the front of the class. The displays would periodically lose connection to our bikes and stop displaying statistics, and the owner ended up coming into the studio to try to sort out the issue while the instructor continued teaching the class. It was really distracting! Since then, the displays have faltered one or two other times, but not to the same extent as I experienced in my first class, so they do seem to be working out the problems.

Overall, I’m really glad I found Vital Cycle. It’s still a relatively new studio, so I can overlook some of the cons listed above – I trust that as this studio grows and more people learn about it, they’ll continue to make improvements. The location really can’t be beat, and I’m so grateful to finally have an affordable spinning option that’s conveniently located to both my home and my office. I hope more people discover this studio so that it can continue to succeed!

Festive Starbucks Swaps

Confession time: I am a sucker for the Starbucks red cups.

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I anxiously await the rollout of the holiday cups every year, because they signify the return of my favorite indulgences – gingerbread and eggnog lattes. I love these coffee options, but I also know that they are so unspeakably bad for me. This year, I set out to find a way to enjoy the flavors of the season without completely destroying my healthy eating habits.

I always order my gingerbread latte with nonfat milk and request no whipped cream, but the gingerbread syrup still packs a wallop. A grande nonfat, no-whip gingerbread latte clocks in at 200 calories and an insane 36 grams of sugar. WHAT?! My Fitness Pal recommends no more than 50g  of sugar on a daily basis, and I try to avoid anything with added sugar – usually my sugar macros come from natural sources, like fruit.

The good news? The gingerbread syrup is so strongly flavored that you don’t need the full amount to get the flavor of the drink. If you’re at Starbucks, you can request one or two pumps of syrup instead of the full amount, which will dramatically reduce the sugar content. OR, you can ask about buying a bottle of the syrup to take home! The bottles retail for $12.95 and will last you all season. Stores aren’t always able to sell the syrup to customers, as it depends on how much they have in stock, but you can also order the bottles through Starbucks’ online store. I own a Verismo, the Starbucks-branded at-home latte machine, and I make my latte using half a tablespoon of gingerbread syrup. Along with the milk and espresso pods, my latte comes in at only 9 grams of sugar – 75% less than the in-store version, and just as satisfying.

I’m also a huge sucker for the eggnog latte. Starbucks tried to remove these from the menu this year, and the backlash was so strong that they re-added this drink to the holiday options after only a few days. Starbucks makes this drink with a ratio of 2/3 eggnog and 1/3 skim milk; this recipe results in a drink that clocks in at 460 calories and 48 grams of sugar for a grande. Ouch. When I order the drink in the store, I ask them for 1/3 eggnog and 2/3 skim milk, which helps, but the reality is that eggnog is such an unhealthy treat that the drink is still a calorie and sugar bomb. I limit myself to one a season, and enjoy it for all it’s worth.

To enjoy eggnog options at home with less guilt, I turn to So Delicious Vegan Eggnog. I love So Delicious products; their unsweetened coconut milk is a staple in my pantry. This eggnog is coconut milk based. It’s still in the treat category, with 14 grams of sugar in a 1/2 cup serving, but at 90 calories per serving and 3 grams of fat, it’s a significantly better choice than the average dairy-based eggnog. I like to use a splash of this in my coffee and top with a grating of fresh nutmeg to get that holiday vibe without the full indulgence of the Starbucks version.

What are some of your favorite holiday treats? Any other tips for enjoying a holiday indulgence with less guilt? 

Disclaimer: I did not receive payment for any of the products mentioned here – they’re things I love, but no one asked me to write about them!