Lynn Braz, Author

Flying Free: Life Lessons Learned on the Flying Trapeze

Natural Facelift Workout

Gravity. Noted MIT-graduate engineer, statistician, author, and entrepreneur Roger Babson labeled, in 1929, gravity “Our enemy number one.” When it comes to aging, that actually may be true.

Gravity, over time, causes skin to sag. The naturally perky breasts and butts of youth need pushups and squats to keep from drooping. But just as exercise  can help keep gravity from ravaging your body, it can also help keep your face firm and toned.

Try these yoga-based exercises for a natural facelift effect. If you’re short on time, skip right to #11.

  1. Standing with your feet close together in the middle of your yoga mat and your arms down by your sides, inhale your arms up over your head bringing your palms together. Look back slightly allowing your shoulders to open, your neck to stretch, and your hips to push forward just a tiny bit.

    Slight backbend to begin your sun salutation.

  2. Exhale and fold forward. Bend your knees and place your palms on other side of your feet. Pull your belly button towards your spine to engage your abdominal muscles.

    Forward Fold. Soften your knees and bring your head towards your shins.

  3. Inhale and step your left leg back into a low lunge, keeping your hands where they are. Look up and feel the stretch along your neck and chin. You will also feel a stretch along your left quad and your right inner thigh.
  4. Exhale and step your right leg back to meet your left leg. Separate your feet slightly and push gently into downward dog. Stay in downward dog for 3 deep breaths in through the nose and out through the nose.

    Downward Dog. Arms shoulder width apart. Engage your core by pulling your belly button towards your spine. Press heels towards your mat.

  5. On your 3rd exhale, lower your body through a push up position so that the tops of your thighs and abdomen are on the mat.
  6. Inhale and look up. You will feel a stretch through your lower back, shoulders, and neck.
  7. Exhale back into downward dog.
  8. Inhale your left leg forward between your hands into the low lunge. Look up and feel the stretch along your neck and chin.
  9. Exhale your right leg to step up and meet your left.
  10. Inhale your arms up over your head, looking up with a slight backbend. This is one sun salutation. Do this 2 or 3 more times to warm your body.
    Benefits: Sun salutations are a full body workout and a complete yoga practice in and of themselves. They lengthen and strengthen your body and help with general toning. Sun salutations are a warm up for every other yoga pose or other exercise.
  11. Kneel down and sit on your heels. Bring your forearms down to the mat. Clasp your elbows with opposite hands. Leaving your elbows where they are, release your elbows and clasp your hands to make a cradle for your head. Bring the top of your head into the cradle. Straighten your legs. Walk your feet as close to your head as you can. Breathe. On an inhale, lift one leg towards the ceiling. Hold for several breaths. Lower the leg and repeat with the other leg. This is the beginner headstand. Headstand is considered the king of yoga poses and, ideally, should be held for 5 minutes a day.Benefits: Headstand reverses the effects of gravity, giving the ultimate natural facelift. Some yogis claim headstands can stop hair from greying. Headstands help heal and prevent varicose veins. A headstand a day helps keep aging at bay.
  12.  Stand at the top of your yoga mat. Step your right leg back and quarter turn. Reach your right hand down to your shin, ankle, or grab your big toe, depending on your flexibility that day. Your body is different day to day and morning to evening, so do not push past what your body wants to do. Lift your left arm up over your head and look up at your left thumb. Hold for 8 to 10 breaths in and out the nose. Repeat on the other side, then step your feet back together and face the front of your mat. Keep your belly button pulled toward your spine to engage your abdominals for entire exercise.Benefits: Toning and tightening the neck and chin. Toning and strengthening inner legs. Toning arms, shoulders, and abs.
  13. Step your left leg back behind  your right about 3 or 4 feet. Engage your abdominal muscles, square your hips to the front of your mat, and roll your chin down towards your chest. Continue rolling down until your forehead is on your right knee. Bend your right need as much as you need to accomplish this. It’s important to have the forehead/knee connection. Keep your fingertips or hands on either side of your right foot for balance. Take short sips of air through your nose for 8 to 10 breaths. Roll up, reversing the way you went down and repeat with the left leg forward.Benefits: Stimulating the thyroid gland, boosting metabolism and working the neck and chin in the opposite direction of previous exercise and ensuing poses.
  14. Come down on to the mat, lying on your stomach. Keep your legs straight and grounded down into the mat. Pull your belly button away from the mat, towards your spine to engage your abdominal muscles. Bring your palms flat on the mat under your shoulders. Without putting weight into your arms, lift your chest off the floor and look up.
    Benefits: Tones neck and chin. Strengthens back and legs.

    Jennifer in cobra pose. Make sure to pull your shoulders down away from your ears in this posture.

  15. Clasp your hands behind your back. Keeping your arms and legs as straight as possible, lift your clasped hands while simultaneously lifting your straight legs squeezed together. Hold for 8 to 10 breaths, or as long as you are able without allowing your body to slacken.

    Locus pose tones neck and chin.

    Benefits: Toning and tightening neck and chin. Developing flexibility in the back.

  16. Come on to your knees with your knees separated about 8 to 10 inches and your feet slightly closer together. Bring your hands to your lower back to support your back. Press your hips forward. Bring your right hand down to your right foot and then your left hand down to your left foot. Keep pressing your hips forward and drop your head back. Take 5 or 6 breaths. To come out of this position, bring one hand back up to your lower back, and then the other hand so that you are supporting your back as you move out of the position. Fold forward into child’s pose for several breaths.Benefits: Toning and tightening neck and chin. Developing flexibility in the back.
  17. Lie on your back. Lift your hips and booty off the mat and support your lower back with your hands. Bring your legs up into a shoulder stand or back behind your head into a plow position. Be very careful not to have weight on your neck. Let the weight rest in your shoulders, upper back, and hands. Breath for long inhalations and exhalations through your nose.
    Benefits: Inversions (feet above head poses) bring increased blood flow to the head, brain, scalp, face, and hair follicles. Builds strength and determination.

How Plant-Based Foods Benefit You

“The produce manager is more important to my children’s health than the pediatrician.” ~Meryl Streep

foodFood is your health’s most powerful ally, or its most insidious enemy. If you’re confused about how to eat healthfully, you are not alone. Information about food and nutrition is often conflicting and constantly changing. Clever marketing by the food industry obscures the difference between healthy and toxic eating, convincing us we need products that do the very opposite of what we’re told they do. Dairy, for example, does not strengthen your bones. It actually leeches calcium from your body, according to a Harvard 12-year study of 78,000 women.

Other studies corroborate Harvard’s findings: Older adults who eat dairy products are more prone to osteoporosis and suffer greater numbers of bone fractures than those who don’t.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a whole foods, plant-based diet, focusing on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, offers health benefits. Plant-based foods are nutrient rich, contain fiber, and are generally less fatty and caloric than animal foods (meat, eggs, and dairy). People who eat only plant-based foods—vegetarians—generally weigh less and have lower risk of some diseases, including heart disease and cancer, than non-vegetarians.

Here are some other benefits of adopting a plant-based diet:

  • Plant-based foods, generally, are less expensive than animal products. You may be able to save money by going vegetarian, or simply replacing several meat-based meals a week with plant-based proteins.
  • Many animal products, including beef, chicken, pork, lamb, milk and other dairy items, and eggs contain hormones, antibiotics, and other toxic chemicals. Vegetarian proteins lower your risk for consuming toxins.
  • Plant-based foods may be helpful in maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Vegetables and whole grains are chock full of nutrients that help keep your eyes, skin, heart, and brain healthy.
  • Plant-based foods contain no cholesterol.

If you are considering making the move towards a more plant-based diet, here are some guidelines for getting the protein, calcium, B vitamins, and other nutrients you need:

  • Protein. Include lentils, tempeh (fermented tofu that has a slightly nutty taste), tofu, edamame, beans, hemp seeds, and almonds in your diet. 8 ounces of beans and legumes, 4 ounces of soy products, and 3 ounces of nuts and seeds equal as much protein as a typical serving of meat.
  • Grains. Eat whole grains—quinoa, brown rice, millet, and amaranth—that are high in fiber and protein. Quinoa is also a good source of calcium.
  • Iron. Lentils, soy foods, dried prunes, and apricots are rich in iron.
  • Calcium. Choose soy products, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, collard greens, and bok choy).
  • B-12. When you switch to a plant-based diet, you must make an effort to get the recommended B-12 requirement. Nutritional yeast, available in health food stores and many supermarkets, and some mushrooms contain B-12. Ask your health care provider if a B-complex or B-12 supplement is appropriate for you.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Opt for walnuts, ground flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, seaweeds, and kelp.

Other things to consider:

  • Combining beans and legume with brown rice creates a complete protein that contains all necessary amino acids.
  • Soy, quinoa, and hemp seeds are complete proteins.
  • Manage portions of seeds, nuts, and nut butters, which relatively high calorie. Eat no more than 3 ounces a day, unless your health care provider instructs otherwise.
  • Avoid processed and packaged foods. Always opt for whole foods whenever possible.

About Me

After more than 40 years of chronic sinus and upper respiratory infections, allergies, colds, and constipation, I eliminated all animal products, including eggs, dairy, and fish, from my diet. I would have preferred to give up a kidney rather than my lattes and Greek yoghurt (the last animal products in my diet), but I’d tried every conventional and alternative therapy imaginable—antibiotics, probiotics, daily wheat grass shots, oil of oregano, aloe vera juice, naturopathic doctors and formulae, homeopathic doctors and formulae, yoga, somatic therapy, positive thinking, affirmations, vitamin C and zinc, echinacea and other herbs, hydrotherapy, hypnotherapy, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and immune system boosting meditations. None worked.

I have not had a single sinus or upper respiratory infection since giving up dairy.

Warning: In the first few weeks of life without dairy, I lost a lot of weight. I had to readjust my food plan and up my calories to offset the dramatic weight loss.

I have been a wellness consultant and health writer for MetLife for 25 years. I am a health and fitness coach.

The Science of Youthful Aging

IMG_20160615_001836“Youth has no age.” —Pablo Picasso

There are secrets to aging well. The Ancient Greeks and Egyptians, the indigenous people of the Caribbean, Native Americans, Disney anti-heroes—they all believed eternal youth was possible, but only through magic. Today, scientists are finding the Fountain of Youth is real. It’s not in the Caribbean, or the Mediterranean, or in a mystical chalice, however. Conveniently, the Fountain of Youth is in your body’s cells, your refrigerator, and your mind.

Long Telomeres = Long Life

Researchers are learning how to naturally slow the aging process. They’ve found that the secret to youthfulness is held in your telomeres, which are the parts of your chromosomes that control aging. Telomeres are like the plastic tips of shoelaces—they prevent your chromosomes from fraying or getting tangled up. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres shorten. When telomeres become too short to divide further, they die. In essence, the shortening of telomeres is the aging process. If you want to slow the aging process, therefore, you must lengthen your telomeres.

Your choices—food, activity, even thoughts—influence the length of your telomeres. Here are some things you can do to help stretch those tiny passports to anti-aging:

  • Exercise. Physical activity boosts mood, energy, and telomere length. Exercise keeps your cells young. One study found that middle-aged hard-core runners (40-50 miles a week) had telomere lengths 75 percent longer than their sedentary peers; their chromosomes were comparable to those of 20-year-olds. Another study found that adults in their 50s who exercised a mere three hours per week lengthened their telomeres. This indicates it’s never too late to start slowing the aging process.
  • Eat Your Veggies. And Fruits and Grains and Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes. In a 2013 study, researchers found the easiest way to lengthen your telomeres is to adapt a plant-based diet. In a future article, I’ll detail the science behind choosing plant products over animal products, but the bottom line is this: Regardless of how much you exercise, if you eat acidic, hormone and antibiotic-poisoned foods, you will hasten your cellular aging. Foods that keep you young include: hemp seeds (Omega-rich, complete protein containing all amino acids), flax seeds (ditto—but take care to store flax seeds whole in your fridge and grind them before eating), sunflower seeds (eat raw after soaking to remove the vitamin-inhibiting, toxic coating that deters bugs, birds, and other prey from eating them in the fields), spinach and kale (organic only), sweet potatoes, peppers, and oranges. Spice up your meals with turmeric and cinnamon, both of which are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powerhouses. For a health-boosting indulgence, choose pure, unsweetened cocoa and check out my article about how to sweeten it up without adding poisonous sugar or sugar substitutes: http://www.fitfierce50.com/2016/07/28/sugar-as-deadly-as-it-is-sweet/.
  • Meditate. Stress shortens telomeres significantly. Meditation lowers stress and also helps repair your genes while balancing your brain. In meditation, you learn to observe your thoughts without grabbing hold of them. If you’re new to meditation, start with 2 minutes a day. Close your eyes, inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 4, sending the breath deep into your abdomen. Allow the breath to rise, filling your diaphragm, chest, and shoulders. Hold for a count of 7. Release the breath through your mouth with a sigh for a count of 8. Repeat 6 or 7 times. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend in meditation until you reach 20 minutes or longer per day. Or, take multiple 5-minute meditation breaks throughout your day.
  • Abstain from Negative Thinking. Negative thinking shortens your telomeres. You are not responsible for your first thought, but every thought after that is a choice. Choose thoughts that soothe and comfort you. Replace thoughts that trigger anger, fear, guilt, shame, and anxiety with positive affirmations. Google “positive affirmations” to see a list of books, blog posts, and articles that offer specific affirmations for whatever issue is causing you distress, including relationships, money, career, fertility, body image, and health.
  • Practice Yoga. Remaining flexible—body and mind—is an essential component of an anti-aging routine, and studies have found that people who practice yoga have longer telomeres than those who don’t. Take care to find a qualified yoga instructor to ensure you learn each posture—asana—correctly. Without proper form, you can do your body more harm than good.

Obviously, aging well is ideal. Aches, pains, cognitive decline, sagging skin, wrinkles—no one wants that. While there’s no natural way to look or feel 25 forever, the right foods and exercises can offset many of aging’s least desirable side effects. Jog, bike, swim, dance. Adopt a shelter dog and take him/her for a half-hour walk three times a day. Sign up for a yoga retreat or workshop and maintain the practice once you return home. Activities you can do on your own, without workout partners, expensive equipment or gym fees, are best. When you eat healthy, unload stress, and make exercise a part of your daily routine, lengthening your telomeres and offsetting some negative aspects of aging is the natural result.

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About me: I am an anti-aging health coach who has been researching and writing about health, fitness, nutrition, aging, and cognitive health for over 25 years. As a consultant to MetLife and health journalist whose credits include Cosmopolitan, The Dallas Morning News, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia, and USA Today, I’ve published more than one thousand articles on physical and mental wellness. I am a 55-year-old flying trapeze artist, ballet dancer, and yogi. My mission is to help Baby Boomers and younger generations live longer, healthier, happier lives.

Sugar: Sweet Poison

“Sugar is the new tobacco.” —Cynthia Kenyon, molecular biologist specializing in research on aging.

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Sugar, for many, is mood-changing and addictive—even a small taste leads to cravings for more. Sugar’s comparison to tobacco, however, extends beyond addiction. Research published in 2015 found that sugar breaks down collagen in the skin and is as damaging to skin’s appearance as smoking. Sugar causes your skin to age.

Sugar and smoking share other similarities. They are both deadly. According to BeatCancer.org, sugar is cancer’s best friend for these 5 reasons:

  1. Sugar feeds tumors and encourages the spread of cancerous cells.
  2. Sugar is highly acidic, and cancer thrives in an acidic environment.
  3. Sugar signals the pancreas to release insulin, and insulin is a powerful cell growth stimulator. This could lead to higher risk of certain cancers—breast tissue, for example, contains insulin receptors.
  4. Sugar suppresses key immune responses, reducing your body’s ability to fight cancerous cells.
  5. Sugary products lead to obesity, which is a known risk factor for cancer.

According to the journal Obesity, sugar is a much bigger threat to health beyond raising cancer risk. New studies report sugar causes metabolic diseases, heart disease, and high blood pressure, even when sugar eaters do not gain weight from sugar products.

If you have a sweet tooth—and, really, who doesn’t?—opt for fruits. Chocolate lovers can choose unsweetened, dark chocolate, or carob, which tastes like chocolate, but is naturally sweet without sugar. Avoid sugar substitutes like aspartame and saccharin, which contain potentially harmful chemicals. Stevia is a natural herb that makes an excellent sugar substitute.

Here’s how to eliminate sugar without giving up sweets:

  • Freeze orange juice in ice cube trays for delicious, nutritious, refreshing summer treats.
  • Grill peaches for a sublime dessert.
  • For a yummy fall and winter treat, mix unsweetened cocoa powder in a glass of hot water or warmed almond milk. Add a splash of vanilla extract. If you need more sweetness, add a drop of stevia.
  • Sip naturally sweet mint, fruit, or dessert herbal teas. Republic of Tea’s Coconut Cocoa is as rich and satisfying as anything made with sugar.
  • Roast naturally sweet vegetables, including corn, yams, sweet potatoes, and winter squash, and use as side dishes and, if you’re an in-between-meals-snacker, snacks. I don’t advocate snacking, but that’s a whole other topic.
  • Use fruit—either pureed, fresh, whole fruits or juice— for baking. Choose fruits that complement the flavors of the other ingredients.
  • Substitute crushed pineapple (1:1 ratio) or 2/3-cup apple juice for a cup of sugar in carrot cake.
  • Substitute applesauce for sugar (1:1 ratio) in oatmeal cookie recipes.
  • Sweeten brownie batter with pureed dates. Use 2/3-cup of dates for 1 cup of sugar.
  • Use extra ripe bananas in your banana bread and skip all other sugars. The riper a banana gets, the sweeter it becomes. So sweet, there’s no need for extra sugar.
  • Swap apple juice concentrate for sugar in apple pies (1:1 ratio).
  • Be creative with spices. Vanilla beans can a hint of sweetness without the sugar. Dark, unsweetened chocolate, in small quantities, is healthy. Dip the unsweetened dark chocolate in a quarter teaspoon of almond butter. Carob, which is naturally sweet, can be substituted for milk chocolate in recipes.
  • If you’re going to snack, snack smarter. Smear a thin layer of almond butter on 3 or 4 Triscuit crackers (or other whole grain cracker) and top each with a dollop of 100% fruit spread. Avoid peanut butter. Peanuts, even when organic, are prone to mold which causes the growth of a toxin—aflatoxin—that is highly carcinogenic.
  • Snack on 2 TB of raisins mixed with 2 TB of cashews. Be mindful that nuts and nut butters are both high fat and high calorie, so moderation is essential.
  • Sweeten coffee and tea with stevia, a natural herb that does not raise blood sugar and contains 0 calories. Stevia is available in health food stores and in many conventional markets. Not all stevia brands are created equal. For great taste, choose Sweet Leaf or NuNaturals. For a more subtle sweetness in coffee, try fresh ground cinnamon instead of stevia.
  • Stevia is far sweeter than sugar, so when substituting, bear in mind that 1 or 2 drops of stevia will be as sweet as a teaspoon of sugar. Add a drop or 2 to your oatmeal and other breakfast cereals.
  • Read ingredients. When you opt for packaged foods (which I also do not recommend), choose only items where sugar is the sixth or lower ingredient on the list. It’s always healthier, safer, and less expensive to avoid packaged foods entirely and eat fresh, whole foods. Be mindful that the food industry spends billions of dollars researching the perfect blend of ingredients to create addictive eating. When you buy packaged foods, you buy into the industry of addiction.
  • Avoid or strictly limit syrups, such as agave, maple, rice, and molasses. While these syrups contain some healthy minerals and vitamins, they’re high on the glycemic index and can trigger cravings for more sweets.
  • Do not substitute artificial or chemical sweeteners for sugar. Aspartame, saccharin, and other chemical sweeteners are reportedly linked to a host of adverse reactions, some serious, including dementia and neurological disorders. Also, artificial sweeteners can trigger sugar cravings and cause overeating, since they don’t signal the brain that the stomach is full.
  • Aspartame can cause weight gain through metabolic disease. Stick with natural foods only.

Attain Your Ideal Weight Effortlessly: FitFierce50(TM)

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If you’re reading this, it probably means you think you need to lose weight. Perhaps you are one of the many Americans who is chronically dissatisfied with your weight, always believing you have at least a couple of pounds to lose. Or maybe your weight has gone up as the result of lifestyle changes, stress eating, or the loss of ability to exercise. If you’re in your late 30s or older, the simple act of celebrating a birthday can bring on the weight as your metabolism slows and testosterone levels decrease with age, while cortisol and other hormones conspire to make weight gain seem inevitable.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of dissatisfaction with your weight and/or body, there is one simple rule of weight loss which, if followed precisely, will bring about the change you want. This rule does not involve calorie restriction or training for marathons. This rule does not require juice fasting or eating only pineapples or adding bacon to every meal. I will not tell you to drink 8 glasses of water daily—though that is an excellent thing to do. This rule also does not stipulate you must be vegan, though that, too, is an excellent idea. You will not have to take any supplements or learn “food combining” or give up fats or carbohydrates, or eat protein until your kidneys fail. This one simple rule is so simple you won’t believe it works. But I promise you it does. Here is that rule: Love your body.

Oh, I can hear you groaning. I can see you rolling your eyes. You want to be told to do something diet book-ish. You want to hear that interval training will burn up calories  like crazy. You want that one magic ingredient that dissolves body fat while sculpting muscle. You want to do something. Well, I am not only telling you what to do, but because I am fairly certain  you have no idea how to do it, I am also giving you the how-to.

This is the 7-Step Plan to Attaining and Maintaining Your Ideal Weight Effortlessly, aka Love Your Body:

  1. Get sticky pads of various sizes. Get a bunch of Sharpies in various colors that you like.
  2. Write out on the stickies: “I love my my beautiful body.” “Thank you for being such a wonderful body.” “Thank you, beautiful body, for all the amazing things you do.” “I love and appreciate my body.” “My body is beautiful.” “My beautiful body is healthy and strong.” “I am grateful for a beautiful, vibrant body.” “My beautiful body is the perfect design to do fun things.”
  3. Put the stickies everywhere: On your mirrors, in your car, on the fridge, above your bed, on your desk, on your home’s door, on cabinets, in drawers and closets. Stick stickies on every surface. And read them over and over.
  4. Every time you think or say something negative about your body or weight, say—either silently or aloud: “Cancel that, Universe, I love my beautiful body. Thank you for my beautiful, strong, healthy body.”
  5. Take a moisturizer you love—one that makes you feel luxurious—and slather it on your body each night. Do this slowly, with intention. Feel the reality of your body, your bones and sinew, your muscles. If you feel pain or tenderness allow your hands to linger on those places while visualizing healing light restoring you to perfect health.
  6. Write a gratitude list to your body every morning. Here are some examples: I am grateful my body is able to walk my dog. I am grateful I am able to chase my toddler child or grandchild around the park. I am grateful my beautiful body is able to do amazing things in yoga. I am grateful my beautiful body is pain-free. I am grateful my beautiful body is willing to heal.
  7. Affirm or pray for the willingness to take whatever other steps may be necessary to achieve your ideal weight as you discard every single diet and nutrition book you own.

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The truth is, whatever the problem, the solution is always more love, not less. I’m willing to bet if you think you need to lose weight you’ve been hating on your body, looking at yourself in the mirror with some level of disgust. You’ve been berating yourself, forcing yourself to exercise when you’re ill or injured to burn off calories of foods you wish you hadn’t eaten. You’ve called yourself all kinds of awful names. But it’s time to admit that if berating and scolding and running yourself ragged worked, you would be your idea of perfect by now.

It’s time to try something entirely new: Love. According to the Buddha—and I’m paraphrasing here—no one deserves your love more than you do.

With self-love as your foundation, making changes is much easier. I’m not going to validate that nonsense in The Secret, where the author says she visualized herself to her ideal weight while lying on her sofa eating bon-bons. That’s ridiculous. If you eat things that are unnatural and unhealthy, and your body doesn’t know what to do with them because they are unnatural, most likely you will carry extra weight. If you eat a lot of calories without having a high metabolism or activity level, you’re probably not going to lose weight. You likely will have to make changes to your food and exercise plans. But, the first change you need to make is from self-loathing to self-love.

The more you love yourself, the better you treat yourself. As you let go of processed, packaged foods and incorporate more veggies and whole grains into your food plan, your tastebuds change. You begin to crave healthy foods. As you love yourself more, you are better able to tolerate bodily sensations, and will not feel the need to eat the point of being numb. You will seek healthier alternatives for dealing with anger, fear, loneliness, dissatisfaction, and boredom.

In case you’re wondering, I know this 7-Step method works because I used it to attain my ideal weight. If you know me personally, you know I am dogged by multiple addictions, most of which I’ve been in recovery from for decades. Food was my last bastion of insanity. I overate, under ate, exercised myself to a complete breakdown of my immune system. Starved my 5 foot 6 inch frame down to 106 pounds. Gorged myself up to 148 pounds. Then starved it back down. Over and over again. And hated on my body regardless of my weight. I thought about my body and my dissatisfaction with it all the time. I kept detailed food journals, knew the calories of everything I put in my mouth, owned 23 diet books. I tried the Zone, Eat for Your Blood Type, Atkins, South Beach, McDougal, Cabbage Soup, Grapefruit, Mediterranean, lemon water cleanses, beet fasts, pineapple fasts, multiple tiny meals, skipping breakfast, skipping lunch, skipping dinner, protein shakes, not eating at all, eating until I was so stuffed all I could do was lie down and loathe myself. I had absolutely no peace and no consistency with my weight until I began loving and appreciating my body.

Today, I am 55 years old and I weigh 125 pounds. For the past 7 years my weight has varied between 123 and 127 pounds, which is what I consider to be my ideal healthy range for my height, frame, and activities. I’m in recovery for my eating disorder. But I never would have had the willingness to seek recovery if I hadn’t first started to love my body exactly the way it was at that time. I stopped hating on myself, and wrote out my affirmation and gratitude lists about my body. I put stickies everywhere to remind me to appreciate my body. I learned to love myself as is and make changes from a place of self-acceptance, rather than self-criticism.

It’s okay to love yourself exactly as you are and still desire something else for yourself. It’s okay to love yourself regardless of how you look or what you do or say. It’s okay to ease up on the self consternation and appreciate yourself instead.

Whatever the problem, the solution is always more, not less, love.

 

Best Messaging Platform? Hangouts! Hands Down

imgresRemember how awesome Skype was when it first debuted? International videos calls, for free! Sure, the call dropped about 30 times during a 15-minute conversation. And even when the connection was allegedly working, it rarely worked well. But, it was better than nothing, and enabled travelers to keep in touch while we were on the road, and it gave us face time with the friends and lovers we met while traveling once we returned home.

Then Google premiered its messaging platform Google Chats, now called “Hangouts.” With Hangouts, we can video or text, on our computers and phones. Chat/Hangouts quickly superseded Skype as my go-to messaging platform.

I love Hangouts because it works with WiFi and data plans. It works on all my computers and on my phone. I can send photos, files, videos, and documents. I can video conference. No other platform offers the range of features and reliability.

One of the key features of Hangouts is that it automatically archives chats in two places: within Hangouts itself and in Gmail. Searching and sifting through volumes of messages is simple.

Today, on my phone and computer I have so many messaging platforms I can’t keep them all straight: Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Verizon messaging and phone, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Slack.  People send me direct messages through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m in a huge decluttering phase of life, and one area I’m streamlining is messaging platforms. Goodbye Slack. Goodbye FaceTime. Goodbye Skype and Snapchat. If you need me, you’ll find me on Hangouts.

 

Benefits of Juicing: FitFierce50(TM)

Source: perrysplate.com

Source: perrysplate.com

As a kid, I watched my younger sister savor peas and carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and other vegetables the way I savored graham cracker pudding pie. It blew my mind that someone, a child no less, could actually like vegetables. The closest I came to enjoying vegetables were ketchup and popcorn.

Prodded by an onslaught of Old Wives’ Tales, flat-out lies, and non sequitors—vegetables will make your hair curly*, you’ll get scurvy if you don’t eat your vegetables, there are children starving in India—I grudgingly choked down as few veggies as I could get away with while anticipating my reward: dessert.

Thankfully, veggies, like beer, became an acquired taste for me.

Now, veggies comprise the bulk of my food plan. I eat 16 ounces of vegetables at lunch and dinner with a serving of whole grains, protein, and fat. I don’t drown the veggies in cheese or oil. I don’t fry them. I eat them raw or lightly cooked, and I can honestly say that today I crave spinach the way I used to crave Tastycakes.

Tastebuds can be retrained, but it’s unrealistic to think that if you despise vegetables you will wake up one morning and suddenly crave Brussels sprouts. You’ll have to put in a little work to encourage your tastebuds to get along with vegetables. Juicing may help fill the gap between what you want to eat and what you need to eat for ideal health.

Here are some of the benefits of juicing:

  • With juicing, you can add healthy ingredients—a piece of fruit, for example—that make the veggies more palatable.
  • Juicing is quicker than cooking. It cuts down on prep and clean-up times.
  • Juicing is easier on your digestive system. Remember: Digestion begins in the mouth. Swish your juice around in your mouth for at least 10 seconds before swallowing it.
  • Juicing helps balance your body’s pH level.
  • Fresh, all-natural juices are ultra nutrient dense.
  • Juice is easy to grab on the go. Try Evolution, Pressed Juicery, Organic Avenue, Liquiteria, Juice Press. Choose glass bottles over plastic, and avoid cans completely, especially if the juice contains tomatoes. Chemicals from the can’s lining can leach into the juice.

You don’t need an expensive food processor to do your own juicing. I use a $30 Ninja blender and it works great.

A friend recently told me some health “expert” claims juicing is bad for you and bad for the environment. That is categorically ridiculous, especially if the choice is between juicing or omitting veggies from your food plan. While juicing does remove the fiber, and a high fiber diet is associated with lower risk of certain diseases, including colon cancer and obesity, fresh vegetable juice is a treasure of nutrition. Also, the byproduct of juicing is completely compostable/biodegradable.

You can juice with a clear conscience.

*Footnote: My hair, which was poker straight as a kid, is now super curly. Is it a coincidence that my luscious head of Botticelli spirals appeared when I began to eat veggies? I think not. Veggies really did make my hair curly. 🙂

 

 

The Power of Yoga: Fit Fierce 50 (TM)

backbendYoga was not my first choice for a fitness program. I preferred jogging, dancing, kickboxing. I was a gym rat who took body sculpting, core strengthening, and Step aerobics classes. I did handstand pushups, spotted by my personal trainer. When I wanted to slow down, bring more grace into my life, I opted for ballet. But, every now and then—usually when I was injured from training too hard—I’d pop into a yoga class. And while I always enjoyed practicing yoga, as soon as my injury healed, I returned to dancing and running and kicking and boxing.

I didn’t fully fall for yoga until I tried a Synergy Yoga class in Encinitas, California. I was a stressed out mess, in the process of relocating to San Francisco, in a new relationship, overwhelmed with work. I rushed into class late, flustered, prickly. One and a half hours later I left feeling transformed, blissed out, calm. That was in June 1998; I have practiced some form of yoga regularly ever since. I became a certified Synergy Yoga teacher in 2001.

The benefits of a yoga practice, for me, are way too extensive to detail in a blog post. I’d need to write a book for that. My first Bikram Yoga teacher, Mary Jarvis, says, “Yoga will make you better at everything.” I thought that was hyperbolic nonsense until, after a few months of daily practice, I went skiing in Santa Fe. It was my first time on skis in 12 years, and it was the best I’d ever skied. My balance amazed me. Also, the absence of fear that characterized my ski experiences as a teen. That night I drove in a snowstorm on unfamiliar roads from Santa Fe to Ojo Caliente, feeling uncharacteristically relaxed, confident, and competent. After about a year of a regular yoga practice, friends and clients began commenting, often, that I seemed much calmer. “Yoga,” I explained.

Yoga introduced me to the fact that negative thinking is my biggest problem. In practicing the structured  Bikram series, yoga became a moving meditation. I was able to observe how my thoughts and breath affected my postures (asana). Negative thoughts led to loss of balance. Short and shallow breath created inflexibility. Practicing yoga in a room heated to 106 degrees F. can be uncomfortable and stir up negativity for me. I observed myself finding someone to pick on in my head during every class. I became so aware of my negativity that there were times I sincerely thought I’d drive myself insane. But I kept showing up in the hot room, became ever increasingly willing to let go of the negative thoughts, to focus on the physical sensations, detach from the mental. Eventually, the negative thoughts ebbed more than they flowed. Feelings of acceptance, tolerance, and gratitude strengthened. I didn’t need to pick on anyone. I didn’t need the negativity.

Years later, as my yoga practice evolved, I began a dedicated Ashtanga Yoga practice, which helped me give up sugar and all processed foods. The daily practice, first thing in the morning, connected me deeply to my body. Off the mat, the practice helped me tune into how my body felt after eating certain foods. Sugar made me giddy, but always led to a crash and cravings for more sugar. Eating pasta and other processed flour products made me feel as if I’d swallowed a sleeping pill. Food’s purpose is to provide energy. I realized my food choices had the opposite effect. That realization led me to a food program that has stabilized my weight and eliminated all bingeing and other unhealthy eating practices. Understanding how food and external conditions affect my body led to reality about my body.

“Yoga gets me in touch with my actual body, rather than my perception of my body,” says longtime yoga practitioner Joy McLaughlin. The quiet of a yoga practice, the internal focus, the keep your eyes on your own mat (don’t compare yourself to others) philosophy all help with bringing us to reality about our bodies. This leads to acceptance and love. And from there, we are positioned to make positive changes, if that’s what we need and want to do.

In San Francisco, I taught yoga for six years to both adults and children. I watched the adult’s bodies transform. One woman lost over 50 pounds in nine months after beginning her yoga practice. Every student gained flexibility and strength. The pre-K to third-grade kids I taught at Lycee Francais La Perouse came into yoga class excited or nervous or tearful, some shy, some needy. All of them became impressively focused within minutes of beginning class. Some proudly told me they practiced yoga at home, with their moms or by themselves. Each class ended the same: every child lying still in savasana, before jumping on top of me for a group hug. The teachers said yoga was the miracle that made their jobs easier.

At age 55, I can still do full splits—left, right, and center—because of yoga. I can even do splits in the air. My yoga practice has enabled me to take up a hobby that was inconceivable before I began my yoga practice: flying trapeze. My fear of heights and my unwillingness to work through fear made trying new things nearly impossible.

All exercise has physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits. The most connected I ever feel to Great Universal Spirit is when I’m jogging somewhere beautiful—Crissy Field in San Francisco, the Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas, Lake Scranton. But the most connected I ever feel to my body is when I’m practicing yoga. Yoga sparks my curiosity. I begin to experiment with movement, wondering what it would feel like if I pulled my shoulder back or tucked my pelvis under or grounded down through the heels of my feet. Yoga has made me expert when it comes to my body, assessing what it can and cannot do. And what it can, but should not, do.

The great yoga masters say, “Old age begins in the feet and by the time it reaches the spine, it’s too late.” I know I’ll never have disk degenerative disease—my spine is nearly as flexible as it was when I was 17. Even the loss of flexibility is positive: what I’ve lost in bendiness, I’ve gained in strength. I’m certain I’ll never need hip replacement. Years ago, I developed tendonitis in my right elbow caused by doing handstands with bent arms. After a few shots of cortisone, my orthopedist recommended surgery. My yoga instructor recommended salabasana. I went with the yoga instructor’s advice. Sure enough, within two months, the tendonitis was gone. At an age where some of my friends are losing height, I am a full inch taller than I was when I started practicing yoga.

I know yogis who are asymptomatic for major diseases, including MS, which they credit to their yoga practice. I am not saying yoga cures everything. I am saying that yoga helps the body tap in to its own innate healing power.

The benefits I’ve experienced directly from my yoga practice include:

  • Increased strength
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased stamina
  • Decreased negativity
  • Freedom from joint pain
  • Increased balance
  • Increased energy
  • Healing of physical injuries
  • Relief from anxiety and depression
  • Increased awareness
  • Compassion for myself and others
  • Desire for a healthy diet
  • Desire for a healthier lifestyle
  • Fun
  • Friendships
  • Travel
  • Ability to use my breath to energize and calm—depending on what I need—my body and mind
  • A portable workout I can do in as little as 10 minutes or up to two hours
  • A good reason to always have nicely pedicured toes
  • A better singing voice (certain asana keep the throat and ears clear; others increase vocal range)
  • A youthful appearance (headstands and other inversions help keep wrinkles at bay)
  • Great Instagram photos 🙂

My yoga practice continues to evolve. Today, I practice hot yoga, supplemented by my home practice. I still jog. I still take dance classes. I still do handstands. I’m a flying trapeze artist. I walk my dogs at least an hour a day. Yoga is not the only thing I do to stay fit and flexible. But yoga makes everything else I do easier.


standing bow

Healthy Breakfast, Healthy Body: FitFierce50(TM)

Healthy BreakfastI used to envy people who skipped breakfast. It seemed like a badge of honor, a testament to willpower that they could make it through an entire night and morning without needing to eat. I am never one to skip a meal—especially breakfast—so I was thrilled when science validated my love of a good brekky. A healthy breakfast lays the foundation for a healthy body.

Studies have found that people who eat a healthy* (healthy, being the operative word) breakfast have a lower BMI than people who skip breakfast, even when breakfast skippers consumer fewer calories. Translation: Eating breakfast boosts your metabolism so that you burn more calories and fat throughout the day. If you avoid breakfast thinking you’ll lose weight, you are actually more likely to experience the opposite. Skipping breakfast may cause you to gain weight.

Eating breakfast tells your body that plenty of calories will be available so it’s okay to burn them up. Skipping breakfast, on the other hand, signals your body that it needs to conserve energy and burn fewer calories. Your metabolism slows, making it harder to attain and maintain a healthy weight.

A slew of studies have found people who eat healthy breakfasts are more likely to:

  • Have a lower BMI
  • Eat less fat throughout the day
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Have higher calcium intake
  • Have higher fiber intake
  • Have better memory and attention

People who skip breakfast are more likely to:

  • Be overweight
  • Not get the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Eat unhealthy snacks

What is a healthy breakfast?

The healthiest meals provide a balance of protein, fat, and complex, non-processed carbohydrates. That latter distinction is key: Whole grains are nutrient and fiber rich, and help boost your metabolism. Processed carbs, including sugar, flour, pasta, white rice, Pop Tarts, sugary cereals, Danishes, scones, coffee cake, any cake, donuts, and bagels, are empty calories that drive food cravings and metabolic disease. There’s a reason we call packaged foods “junk” food. The word “junk” is also slang for heroin. Junk = addictive.

Because my day is front loaded, meaning I get the bulk of my work done before noon, I need my breakfast to be hearty, but quick to prepare. I usually spend about 3 to 5 minutes prepping my breakfast the night before so that I can spend even less time in the morning. Here’s what I do:

  • I weigh out 2 oz. of steel-cut oats (or wheat berries or buckwheat) in a small pot. I add boiling water to the pot and cover with a lid.
  • I weigh out 2 oz. of raw nuts and seeds—pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts*—and soak them in room temperature, pure, filtered water.** (Note: not all nuts and seeds need to be soaked/rinsed. See below.)

In the morning, I:

  • Heat the oats.
  • Drain and rinse the raw nuts and seeds.
  • Combine oats, soaked raw nuts and seeds in a cereal bowl. Add in 1 oz. raw hemp, chia, or flax seed, 1 oz. raw wheat germ, 1/2 oz. virgin, unrefined coconut oil, and a pinch of pink Himalayan salt.
  • Finish my meal with a piece of fruit or 6 oz. of berries, melon, or pineapple.

This breakfast, which contains 0 cholesterol—that’s right, no cholesterol at all—fills me up and keeps me sated for 4 to 6 hours. As mentioned, I vary my whole grains and raw nuts and seeds, which are high in vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, carbs, and protein. My typical breakfast nets me approximately 34 grams of protein and 800 calories, which I have found to be perfect for my age (55), height (5’6″), weight (125 pounds), and activity level (hour-long walks with my dog daily, plus yoga, and other exercises a few times a week).

My healthy breakfast sets the tone for my entire day. It keeps me out of cravings, and makes choosing a healthy lunch and dinner more appealing. For me, breakfast is like exercising—it’s a healthy habit that keeps me feeling and looking my best.

Caveat

If, in the name of eating breakfast, you opt for, say, ice cream or pastries, you are better off skipping breakfast because sugary pastries and products high in animal fats will cause you to gain weight and hasten the aging process. Sugar destroys collagen, a protein that helps skin keep its elasticity.

Note on Nuts/Seeds

**5-6 Brazil nuts contain the daily recommended value of selenium, a powerful anti-oxidant that lowers risk of prostate and lung cancer, and is effective in treating infertility and arthritis. It also has powerful anti-aging benefits for your skin. For healthy aging, avoid all animal products because none of them contain anti-aging benefits, and all of them create acidity that hastens aging. Also, most animal products are loaded with harmful hormones and chemicals that increase your risk of cancer and other diseases.

***Most nuts and seeds are covered in a film that acts as a vitamin inhibitor and blocks nutrient absorption. Therefore, most nuts and seeds need to be soaked and rinsed before eating. Exceptions to soaking and rinsing include: chia, hemp, walnuts, cashews, and flax. Raw nuts and seeds are nutritious; roasted nuts and seeds are not. Roasting turns them rancid, and makes them more likely to trigger the compulsion to overeat. Never eat roasted nuts and seeds. Virtually all almonds in the U.S. are blanched; it is nearly impossible to buy raw almonds in the U.S. unless they are imported from Italy. Raw almonds are a superfood, but since they are difficult to come by in the U.S., I suggest avoiding them unless they are certified raw and organic.

Parting Thought

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

A.A. Milne

Sources: NutritionDataSelf.com (2016), Rush University Medical Center (2016), WebMd (12/08/14)

About me: In 1994, I launched a publication about health and fitness, Life Advice, for MetLife. Today, that newsletter reaches 1 million people and receives hundreds of emails per issue expressing positive feedback. I am a certified yoga instructor and certified personal trainer. As a voracious consumer of medical studies about healthy aging, I have spent two decades compiling research on offsetting some of the negative effects of aging. I am the author of Flying Free: Life Lessons Learned on the Flying Trapeze, which details how confronting my fear of heights changed my life, my body, and my attitude.

breakfast-before-anything-quote

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