Create your own joy

The world happens around us, every day. It happens around us and sometimes, it happens to us. There are any number of things that are totally outside of our control, and sometimes, those things are pretty terrible.

You know what’s totally within your control? The ability to create your own joy. You can give yourself permission to seek out joy. That’s allowed. It should even be encouraged.

picmonkey-collageI spent the weekend on the Cape, borrowing my cousins’ incredible home for a much-needed break. I took Friday and Monday as work-from-home days so that I could have some time to myself, to get some much-needed mental clarity and peace. For the weekend itself, friends came up from New York and drove down from Boston to spend Halloween in Provincetown. We got to be very stereotypical New England tourists for the day on Saturday, and when night fell, we dressed up in costumes, broke out the booze, and celebrated the holiday in truly ridiculous fashion. It was something of a social experiment, throwing together two separate sets of friends who had never met, but it turned out great and the weekend was a success.

Leaving the Cape yesterday for the long drive back to Boston, I found myself reflecting on how grateful I felt for the past few days – grateful to the family who let me use the house, to the friends who made the journey to the Cape, to the job that gave me the flexibility to work remotely, to the universe for giving us amazing weather. The key, though, is that I didn’t sit around and wait for these things to fall into my lap. I asked whether the house would be free at any point this fall; I asked my friends if they wanted to spend a weekend away. I created space for this weekend to happen.

If I don’t make a conscious effort to create space for joy, then yes, it’s really easy to let everything else overwhelm me. That’s the thing about stress, about exhaustion, about bad news and difficult experiences: they creep, they spread, they entangle you. You can let it happen, or you can do something about it. I’m choosing the latter; I’m choosing to invite in the light.

To that end, I’ve decided to participate in a Daily Gratitude challenge for the month of November. I’ve been using (and loving!) the Day Designer planner printables, and the company sent an email out this morning with a link to their free daily gratitude journal printable. They shared a blog about how to make gratitude a daily habit, and they’re encouraging followers to share their daily reflections on social media with the tag #DDdailygratitude.

joy-gratitude-quoteI’ll be sharing my daily gratitude posts on Instagram at @beingyourchange, and where appropriate I may expand them into a longer post. I’m hoping this will help to keep all of the dark-and-nasties at bay, while keeping me focused on the sources of joy and light in my life.

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.

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. 

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? 

Emotional Eating: Why Can’t I Quit You?

Emotional eating has always been my biggest nemesis in the battle to improve my diet. Food has seemingly always been tied to how I’m feeling. Birthday celebrations centered around decadent cakes covered in sugary icing from the local Italian bakery. Stressful periods meant that stopping for fast food could be excused away by my busy schedule. When someone in my family was sick, or after a death, friends and neighbors would come bearing gifts of food – bags of bagels and cream cheese, trays of lasagna, deli platters to feed an army.

Weight Watchers is capitalizing on this right now with their current ad campaign. I have tried their programs in the past and it didn’t work for me, but I know there are a lot of people who swear by the company. Sharing this video is in no way an endorsement of their methods; it is, however, a great piece of advertising and one that hits home with today’s topic.

I’ve mentioned this a few times recently, but my family’s been going through a rough patch lately. My father had surgery last week, and it’s been difficult to keep up with a sense of normalcy with everything that’s been going on. I tend to internalize things like this, which is not to say that there haven’t been incredible displays of support and friendship from the people I care about; I just tend not to talk much about things like this when they’re going on. So, instead, I go to war with the grocery store. Ice cream? Chips? Homemade chocolate chip cookies? All things that were on the patient’s wish list for recovery snacks, and I had zero mental energy to find the willpower to resist adding my own treats to the cart when shopping last week.

So here we are. It’s been a week since the surgery, and I feel gross. I haven’t been eating well, I’ve been drinking way too much wine, and my body is letting me know that it is displeased. My pants are feeling tight, I have no energy, and I can’t find the willpower to get back to my normal healthy eating and exercising routine.

This latest incidence of emotional eating has helped me to see that I need to focus more on the mental side of all of this. I know what I need to do to lose weight and get in better physical shape, and I am totally capable of doing all of those things. What I need to figure out know is how to maintain those habits and not let outside forces shake me to the core. Life happens and I need to learn that turning to comfort foods not only won’t comfort me, but it will make me feel worse in the long run.

I’m making this one of my priorities for the coming year and I’d love suggestions from others who have dealt with this in the past. Any books that particularly worked for you? Techniques to try? Should I just suck it up and try therapy? Advice is welcome, and much appreciated!

Fitnasty for Life
I’m teaming up with Carolyn over at Fitnasty for Life to get #Fit4Fifteen – check out the linkup!

Do you battle with emotional eating? What has worked for you?

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!

Thanksgiving Strategy

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I love Thanksgiving. I didn’t get to this place by skipping the stuffing and mashed potatoes, folks. I love food, and Thanksgiving is filled with some of my favorite things to eat. I want to make sure I enjoy the holiday, but I also don’t want to overdo it. I have my #6W2C midway check in on Saturday and I would hate for lingering turkey belly to show up for measurements! I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so I wanted to share some of my ideas for staying on track this week.

surviving thanksgiving


Make smart swaps. Wherever possible, I’m looking at our planned menu and identifying ways that I can save calories without sacrificing flavor. Here are a few of the things I’ll be doing on Thursday:

  • We always make spinach dip to eat during the early football game. The traditional dip is loaded with calories – mayo AND sour cream! served in a bread bowl with more bread on the side! – but there are ways to lighten it up. I’ll double the amount of spinach so that more of the bulk comes from veggies than from dip, and I’ll be using greek yogurt in place of the sour cream. I’m also providing cut up veggies alongside the bread for a healthier option to dip.
  • My family’s stuffing recipe is built around Jimmy Dean sausage, because there’s no better way to stuff a turkey than with some dead pig (delicious, delicious dead pig). My father would disown me if I tried to mess with this recipe, so I had to look for other ways to lighten up our family gathering. I decided that rather than pan searing the brussel sprouts in bacon drippings, I would roast them with butternut squash and olive oil. No need to incorporate more unnecessary pork products (though delicious. so, so delicious) into an already caloric meal!
  • I’ll be cutting way back on drinking during the day. I love beer during football as much as any girl, and who doesn’t love a bloody mary when prepping the turkey to go in the oven? But at the end of the day, I don’t want to waste calories on alcohol. I picked out a delicious wine to savor with the meal, but otherwise I’ll be sipping soda water throughout the day.

Get out of the kitchen. It’s really tempting to spend the whole day hanging out in the kitchen. We have an open concept kitchen/family room, so it would be really easy to spend all day either sneaking bites of stuffing from the bird (salmonella? what’s that?) or hanging out on the couch watching football. Instead of giving in to this, I like to plan activities into the day. I will be meeting my cousins for coffee in Boston in the morning before we all head off for our holiday plans, and I’ll take advantage of the opportunity to park away from the coffee shop so I can enjoy a nice walk. I’ll also take the dog out for an extra-long walk midday. This will help both of us – he’ll need to let off his pent up energy, and I’ll walk off some of my football snacks before the big meal. (Let’s just hope Boston weather cooperates and doesn’t rain out these plans!)

Choose a smaller plate. This is my favorite trick, even though it drives my mom absolutely up a wall. Plates have gotten steadily larger over the years, and the average dinner plate is so big that it’s easy to overeat. I really do like to have a little bit of everything from the Thanksgiving table, so if I start with a smaller plate, I can fill it with my favorite foods while forcing myself to use smaller portions. It makes my mom crazy that my plate doesn’t match the rest of her table setting, but it’s a strategy that I use all the time in my regular life. Smaller plates = smaller portions!

Take time to enjoy the day. Yes, the meal is a highlight of the day – but it’s not the only thing to enjoy. Make sure you’re taking time to appreciate the people that you’re spending the day with. Share what you’re grateful for over dinner. Catch up with the family members you haven’t seen in a while, and reflect on the previous year. The more the conversation flows over dinner, the more time you’ll take to eat your meal. You spent all day cooking, so dinner shouldn’t be over in twenty minutes! By taking time to enjoy the company and the experience of the meal, you’ll naturally slow down the pace at which you’re eating, and that will give your body time to realize that you’re full. Wait to take seconds – chances are you don’t actually want the extra portions!

Stay active this week – No excuses!  I planned out my workouts for the week, and I will follow through on every commitment, no matter what. I’ve been battling a sinus infection and it’s really tempting to just drown myself in Sudafed and hide from the world, but this week it is especially important to follow through on my workout plans. I’ve got a good mix of cardio and strength training Monday through Wednesday. I’m kicking Thanksgiving day off with an early spin class, and I’m signed up for Turkey Bootcamp with a group of girlfriends for Friday morning. Staying active this week will help me to think about my long term goals and make the right choices elsewhere in life.

Most importantly, remember that this is only one day out of the year. Practice moderation and make good choices, and remember that this day should be about enjoying the time you get to spend with the people you love. Plan for success, but don’t get so caught up in making healthy choices that you forget to savor the day – and the meal.

How are you setting yourself up for success this holiday season?