Happy Wednesday, cats and kittens! I’m still feeling pretty great after spending the laziest weekend up at a cabin with Dan’s cousins. Buying a cabin is a huge goal of ours, because there’s something so relaxing about heading into the woods for the weekend that you just can’t get in the city. Even if we have a weekend at home without much to do, getting away from your normal surroundings just recharges you in a different way. And this weekend was the perfect picture of laziness—sleeping in, naps, and reading. I did go for a run one day, but even that had a lot more walking than normal. It was great.
I finished the book I was reading on Saturday afternoon, and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write a reading post for a while—I have some good ones for you guys. And I just learned that one of them is coming out as a movie! So get it while it’s hot. Plus, it’s the last day of August so if I’m going to post an August Reading List, time is really of the essence.
The Butterfly Garden
Ok, this one is a little weird. Let’s just start there. But I really couldn’t put it down. It’s about a man who kidnaps teenaged girls and keeps them in a compound with an incredible garden, and tattoos butterfly wings on their backs. So, if that premise is too much for you, go ahead and move on, but if you’re not totally turned off then you absolutely have to read this one. Yes, the subject matter is disturbing, but the book isn’t overly gross or gratuitous and the story is really captivating. Highly recommend.
That Old Cape Magic
This is the one I finished on Saturday—it wasn’t as consuming as The Butterfly Garden or What Was Mine, but it was still well-written and thought-provoking. It’s about a man looking back on his life, really—mostly his professor parents and his relationship with them, but also his marriage and his family. It’s framed by two weddings, happening in nearby locations a year apart from each other. I would read the other books on this list first, but I would recommend this one if you’re looking for something new.
What Was Mine
This book was so interesting and enthralling. It centers around a woman kidnapping an infant from an Ikea and raising the baby as her own. It’s told from many different perspectives—the woman who took the child, the child herself, the parents whose baby was taken, family members, coworkers, even the nanny. And it has my favorite quality in a book: deeply human, three-dimensional characters who make you think about people in new ways. So, yeah. I’ll recommend any book that does that.
The Light Between Oceans
Thanks to the satellite television at the cabin, I learned this book is coming soon to theaters near you! We don’t have regular television channels (because we have Netflix and Hulu and I haven’t taken the time to figure out how to make our TV have any more than that) so I likely wouldn’t have known about this movie until it was actually IN theaters, but for the cabin television. So, if you’re going to read the book, it would seem now is the time. This is actually another book about people ending up with kids who aren’t theirs—that’s an odd trend here. The Light Between Oceans is about a lighthouse keeper and his wife, and a baby that washes up on their little island in a boat. The imagery in this book is really beautiful—the descriptions of the lighthouse and the island and the characters are all very vivid, and the exploration of this odd human experience is really well-done. I didn’t love this one nearly as much as What Was Mine, but hey—Hollywood. So. There you have it.
I’ve been going through a lot more books since I made it a habit to read a little bit before bed each night—maybe only 20 minutes, but it really adds up! Have any good recommendations for me?? Leave them in the comments!
So, Kelly started school as a FIFTH GRADER this week. How that is possible, I can’t even imagine. He was just a little Kindergardener last time I checked and now he’s this big gangly fifth grader. And, with school starting, I’m thinking a lot about what’s coming next with fall and winter. I love the fall—the crisp air, the gorgeous colors, the sweaters and scarves. And I like the beginning of winter, too—the first few snowfalls, Christmas, cozying up with a cuddly blanket and a glass of red wine. There’s lots to love. But I also realized last year how much the winter wears on my energy and mood.
Managing seasonal depression is important for me—knowing that the lack of light and fresh air is going to make it harder to feel good, I need to focus harder on including exercise, and sunlight, and good nutrition in my daily routine. I’m hopeful that being conscious of that this year will help, both in managing the melancholy in the first place and in realizing that it’s just the dark dreary winter and that it’s cyclical and it will pass (not that something is deeply and profoundly wrong, which is what it can feel like).
I was also listening to an episode of The Living Experiment podcast about seasonality and health lately, and they brought up something that resonated with me about varying your diet with the seasons. The discussion was about the fact that our bodies are designed to respond to the seasons for evolutionary reasons, and that we sometimes fight that for no good reason. Take diet, for example—in the summer, it makes sense to eat more fruits and vegetables, because they are fresh and abundant. And that’s probably what sounds good to you in the summer. On a hot day, you want to eat watermelon and peaches and berries. In the winter, you want to eat warm, hearty foods. Like meat, and potatoes, and other roasted root vegetables. If you ate only local foods, that is how your diet would shift seasonally. But what’s interesting if you’re interested in diet and nutrition is that you hear these rules and recommendations about what your diet should include and exclude, and those recommendations don’t make allowances for seasonal changes. If you’re following a strict diet plan, it’s likely that might not fit how you want to eat in the summer, or the winter.
Fruit is a great example—if you’re deep in the health and fitness community, you might hear some mixed messages about fruit. So much sugar, ya know? So many carbs. (If this sounds ridiculous to you, that’s great. If I was reading this two years ago I wouldn’t relate to it AT ALL, and you really shouldn’t, because fruit is a healthy food and if you think of it that way, you’re right. But if you’ve been reading about different ways of eating and you’re hearing that eating too much fruit won’t fit into your diet plan, then just know that I understand that. And I don’t like it.) And sure, fruit is rich in carbohydrates. And phytonutrients, and fiber. And what the podcast was pointing out is that fresh, local fruit in the summertime, even in larger-than-normal amounts, can absolutely be part of a healthy eating plan. But maybe in the winter, when you’re eating your big hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and sweet potato hash, you don’t also buy tons of fruit from South America. Just an idea.
This might resonate with you more or less depending on where you live--the weather and local availability of produce varies a lot more in Minnesota than it does in Southern California--but this idea was really interesting to me. It makes perfect sense, but as someone who likes to seek out the "best" way to do anything (eat, exercise, sleep, work) it never occurred to me that the best way to eat might vary quite a lot from winter to summer. I mean, I understand the concept of eating seasonal produce, but before listening to this podcast the most that meant to me was that I might fill my fruit "quota" with apples in the fall and oranges in the winter (yeah, I know, oranges aren't local to Minnesota, but I'm a modern human and I don't want to limit myself to pickled and canned foods in the frozen tundra months). It didn't occur to me that maybe I would just eat a lot more fruit in general in the summer, and a lot more meat and potatoes in the winter. That's sort of what I do already, because that's what sounds good, but it was interesting to think more about it. And it's another great reminder that following any set of rules strictly probably doesn't allow you to be the happiest, healthiest version of yourself. Rules are great as suggestions, and as training wheels to help you find your way. But then you've gotta do what's best for you.
Is that interesting to you?? If not, you just read a pretty long blog post that must have been dreadfully boring. Thanks for sticking it out anyway. Love you.
Well, would you look at this?? TWO recipes are being posted to Cocoa and Cotton in the SAME week! Alright, I'll be honest, you can hardly call this a recipe. BUT. But. Stay with me. This is my new favorite way to eat sweet potatoes, and these little suckers can easily be made on Sunday and eaten throughout the week if you're into meal prepping (or even if you're not. We don't have to call it that. This is a safe space.) They're just a little crispy, and nice and soft and chewy, and sweet, and salty, and delicious. And nutritious! I love them. You'll love them, too.
Sweet potatoes (I used three this time, and chose some that were't too thick around the middle so my rounds didn't end up being huge)
Ghee (or butter, or even coconut oil)
1. Preheat your oven to 425F. The group that I photographed for this post was actually baked at 350 and they weren't quite as crispy as they are if you do them at 425--I lived with it, because I was also baking chicken, but hotter is better. (In retrospect, I don't know why I didn't just bake these at 425 by themselves--we have a double oven. I bought it just exactly for this purpose. You guys, I need a helper.)
2. Wash and scrub your sweet potatoes really well, since you're going to be leaving the skins on. And EATING them! You can do that. It's good for you. You won't even notice. Guys, once I was running late and needed Dan to help me get started on dinner before I got home, and I asked him if he would wash the potatoes for me, and he asked if he should use soap. Don't use soap to wash the potatoes. Don't use soap on any food, ok? Ok.
3. Prick holes in the sweet potato skins with your fork, and pop them in the microwave just enough to soften them, but not to cook them all the way. How long this takes is really going to depend on how big your sweet potatoes are--I would start with 4 minutes and go up by 2 from there. You'll be able to tell if the sweet potatoes have softened enough by squeezing them (but careful, because they're not) so grab a dish towel to protect your hands and give them a squeeze. If they're still really hard, add another two minutes and try again.
4. Once they feel a little soft when you squeeze, take them out of the microwave and slice them into coins about 1/4 inch thick. Place them on a baking sheet, ideally with a silicone baking mat underneath (if you don't have one of those you could use parchment paper, but also you should probably buy one because they're inexpensive and magical).
5. Melt your ghee, or butter, or coconut oil. You don't need much--for this entire baking sheet, I used probably one tablespoon of ghee. Maybe one and a half. Brush the top of each sweet potato with the ghee and sprinkle with sea salt.
6. Pop those suckers in the oven and let them bake until they're browned on the bottom, about 25ish minutes. If you want to be a really good cook you could flip them so they brown on both sides, but I frankly don't have the patience for that.
These are delicious right out of the oven, or you can store them in the fridge and eat throughout the week.
Hi friends! It's Wednesday. That means it's the halfway point of this week and THANK THE GOOD LORD because this week is testing my patience. I just want credit for the fact that I have hit zero people in the face despite the fact that many more than zero people have deserved a good hit to the face. I know. I am the picture of grace and self-restraint.
It's also the halfway point in the 21 Day Fix Extreme, and frankly that is going much better than the rest of this week. I love these workouts. I mean they make me a sweaty, sore mess but in a good way.
There are so many sweaty selfies on my phone now, beachbody has turned me into someone who takes makeup-less, smelly, sweaty photos of myself. So, ok. The Fix. There are three main parts of the program to discuss, so I'll let you know how they're all going: the first is the workouts, the second is the portion control containers, and the third is Shakeology.
Let's start with the workouts. I love them and I hate them all at the same time. Upsides: they're only 30 minutes (so basically I never have an excuse to skip them...I can always find half an hour to work out. It's thirty minutes. Make it happen.) But that 30 minutes...it's hard. I'm sweating and breathing heavy and working every single muscle ever and I am FEELING the BURN. I really like the way the workouts are structured--they're all sets, so you end up doing 3 or 4 sets of 2 or 3 exercises in each set, and you do each set twice through. Each exercise lasts for 30 seconds or a minute, so basically you're focusing on one movement for a small period of time, repeating that movement and a few others twice, and moving on, and it really does make the whole thing go pretty quickly. Also, I'm definitely building muscle. Not only am I sore, but also I can see more definition in my arms and legs already. After ten days! I'm hooked. There are seven different workouts that you do on each day of the week, so this week I'm repeating the workouts I did last week. I'm also seeing improvement in my performance of the workouts after only a week, which is super exciting. And those results make me want to keep going! I love it.
I have still done some other workouts in the last ten days--today I went to my spin class at work over lunch and didn't do the 21DFX workout, and I've gone on a few runs as well. So far I'm just moving the Fix workouts around to accommodate that--doubling up if I feel good, or skipping one if I'm tired. My legs have been getting a lot of work between running/spin and the full body workouts, so I skipped the specific leg day last week (don't worry, my lower half still got PLENTY of work with the plyometric jump workout, and others) and I didn't do yoga on Sunday because I biked instead...and because I hate yoga. I'll try the Fix version at some point for sure, but it's just not my favorite way to exercise.
The portion control containers. So, a huge reason people see results on 21 Day Fix and 21 Day Fix Extreme comes down to these portion control containers. The challenge pack comes with containers for fruits, vegetables, protein, carbs, healthy fats, and sauces/dressings, and there's a calculator that uses your current weight to determine how many of each container you should eat in a day. This is GREAT for people who are new to clean eating, trying to lose weight, and don't know how to do it (or have been doing extreme or yo-yo diets where they cut out entire food groups, or replace real foods with fake diet foods). But I'm gonna be real with you--these are not for me. I would have LOVED this plan when I was 20 and trying to lose the 15 pounds I gained my first few months in Europe (instead, I basically ate exclusively Chobani yogurt and fiber one bars, which was not the most balanced diet) but that's not where I'm at right now. First of all, I'm not really trying to lose weight, so the calculated amount isn't quite enough food for me. Also, I don't eat many grains and I don't always eat potatoes, so I find myself eating more fruit than recommended but less of the "carb" containers (which probably about evens out, but isn't exactly following the rules).
I think the portion control containers would be awesome for a lot of people. They're just not really what I need at this point in my life. I've spent the better part of two years figuring out how to eat well for my body, and it's not that far off from this system but it's not exactly on, either. And that's ok.
Shakeology. I'm LOVING shakeology. I think I'm finally getting enough protein to build substantial muscle, and having a go-to afternoon snack has been kind of a game changer. Before, I would often end the work day pretty famished and end up eating a huge snack when I got home that sort of ruined my appetite for dinner (often not the best stuff, either--like crackers and peanut butter, or cereal, or dates and peanut butter...or peanut butter on a spoon...) but when I drink my shake at 3 or so I'm good until dinner and then I have the appetite for a balanced, healthy meal at dinner time. It's really improved my routine. I do blend the shake in the morning with a little peanut butter and a banana, so it's a decent mix of protein and carbs to keep me full for a few hours.
So there you are: the halfway thoughts. I actually think I'll keep doing this workout program through September, and just keep mixing it with running and other stuff. I want to see how strong my arms can get! :)
Fall is coming, my friends. It's not here yet, but the morning and evening air is starting to get that little bite to it that reminds you autumn is on its way. I'm not going to be upset about that--yes, summer is amazing, but let's talk about all of the things that are wonderful about fall. 1) sweaters. boots. scarves. vests. Don't tell me that's not one item, I won't hear it. 2) warm beverages. chai lattes, apple cider, even more coffee than usual... 3) apple crisp, apple pie, apple everything. apples.
This dessert is the perfect summer-isn't-over-but-fall-will-be-here-soon dessert. Do you guys hate it when I use a thousand hyphens? I love the hyphens. But really. Let's focus. Raspberry apple crisp was made for August. It's got that fresh, juicy raspberry flavor of summer, but the warm apple-y goodness of fall. I made this for a dinner party with friends last weekend and it was a huge hit. At least one friend was worried I was going to bring something too healthy when I volunteered to bring dessert, but was thrilled to receive this deliciousness instead--don't tell her, but it is sort of healthy. For a dessert.
I made this crisp in what I would call "paleo-ish" fashion, because it's definitely not strict paleo (it has oats, for starters, and a little bit of grass-fed butter, though I can't keep track of whether we're calling that paleo or not, and I used regular sugar because I'm out of coconut sugar). But it could easily be made paleo--skip the oats, sub ghee or coconut oil for the butter if you like, and choose a sugar that fits in your plan. Coconut, maple, whatever. But don't skip this dessert, because it is delicious.
For the filling:
2 12-oz bags of frozen raspberries
3 Tbs lemon juice
4 Tbs sugar of choice (I used regular, but see above if you're hung up on that)
4 heaped Tbs arrowroot starch (or regular flour, if that's your jam)
A hearty dash of cinnamon (don't get sassy with me, I measured literally everything else)
For the crumble top:
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch (if you're a regular flour-eater you can also just do plain old flour and oats instead of almond and arrowroot flours)
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup sugar (see above re: type, I used regular raw cane sugar)
4 Tbs butter (or coconut oil, or ghee)
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. Peel and slice your apples--slice them nice and thin so they cook evenly through. I left mine in normal slices, but next time I make this I might cut the slices in half so the apple pieces are smaller, since the berries make a messy pile and the apple slices are sort of large and cumbersome. Your call.
3. Add your apples to a big bowl (bigger than you think you need--the biggest bowl you have) and add your frozen raspberries.
4. Add your lemon juice and sugar, sprinkle cinnamon over the whole top of the bowl, and mix well. After that's all mixed up, add your arrowroot starch and mix well again.
5. Pour your raspberry apple-mixture into an ungreased 9x13 baking pan, and rinse and dry your big bowl to mix up your crumble (saving you some dishes here--you're welcome).
6. Mix all the dry ingredients for your crumble top together really well (everything except the butter).
7. Once your dry ingredients are all well-mixed, cut your butter into little pieces and add it to the crumble bowl. Using a fork or your fingers, mash the butter into the dry crumble mix until it's crumbly. You want to break up the big butter chunks, so just keep mashing, but there are going to be some chunky crumbly pieces. That's ok. Aim for something that looks like this:
8. Pour your crumble evenly over the top of your apple-berry mixture, covering the whole top.
9. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the edges are bubbling and the top is brown.
10. Try not to eat it all immediately because it smells so good. This is delicious with vanilla ice cream, or on its own. Just let it cool before you dive in, ok? Burned tongues are the worst.
Happy Friday, friendlies! For those of you who new to the blog, my Fueled Up Friday series typically includes posts with things that are keeping me fueled up any given week--the featured items range from foods, to books, to podcasts, basically anything that I'm excited about. (Also, welcome! I'm so glad you're here!) But today is going to be a different type of Fueled Up Friday, because I want to focus on just one thing today. I realized recently, as I was listening to the new Living Experiment podcast (that I talked about in this post) that right now I am the healthiest that I have ever been. I'm going to say that again, because it is a BIG DEAL: right now, I am the healthiest that I have EVER been. At least, the healthiest I've ever been as an adult. I was probably an extraordinarily healthy infant. But that's beside the point. I want to write about this realization today because I want to celebrate it, and talk about what it means to me. This is a hallelujah post. Ready? Me, too.
I started thinking about being at my healthiest because the hosts of the Living Experiment podcast were talking about what it means to be healthy vs. what it means to be "hot" and a key part of that discussion was...what does it mean to be healthy? It seems like a simple question, but it's not. Healthy is not a metric--it's not a weight, it's not a body fat percentage, it's not cholesterol or blood pressure or anything else in your medical chart. Those things contribute to health--it's hard to say that you're really healthy if your indicators of health are all tanking, but you can't look to any one thing to tell you if you're healthy or not. So, what else counts? How about how well you're sleeping? What about how well your digestive system is working? How about how your joints and muscles feel when you move throughout your day? How about your ability to participate in the physical activities that you enjoy? What about your mindset--do you feel content? Happy? Challenged? Fulfilled? Stressed? Depressed? What about your diet--are you eating wholesome foods? How do you feel about your relationships?
Listen, the point is this: health is holistic because we are whole people. You can pull a bikini figure competitor off the stage with ripped muscles and minimal body fat and stand them next to a regular person, but you won't be able to tell who is healthier just by looking. Health isn't always visible from the outside. What does the competitive athlete eat to stay so thin? (Is it two twinkies per day and nothing else? I mean, it could be.) Is the stress of competing wearing away at them? Eating disorders are another great example of this--someone suffering with disordered eating can look outwardly healthy (especially because we assume thinner = healthier, until it gets to some dire extreme). But someone suffering from an eating disorder is struggling with some serious mental demons, and their body is struggling with malnutrition and not functioning healthily at all. Is this all painfully obvious to you? That you can't tell how healthy someone else is just by looking, and you can't really tell how healthy you are without thinking kind of hard about it? It wasn't to me.
So, what does it mean when I say I'm the healthiest I've ever been? I'll let you in on a very well-known secret: I'm a pretty Type A person. I like metrics. I like to be able to point to a objective fact, so I'm naturally inclined toward concrete measurements of health--how much do I weigh? How big is my waist? How fast can I run? How far? How many times do I work out in a week? These things are part of health for me. But none of them is the be-all or end-all, and when I started thinking about it I realized there are LOTS of things that go into my own assessment of my health, and there were definitely other times in my life when some of my objective measurements might have looked "healthier" but I know my overall health was not as good as it is now.
I'm not at my lowest weight or body fat percentage, for example--both of those would have been when I was a competitive swimmer in high school. I know I wasn't healthier at that time than I am now for a few reasons: first of all, my nutrition was really subpar. My parents always cooked healthy meals for us, but like most high school students my discretionary diet revolved around potato chips, ice cream (ok, sugar in any form), pasta, and other low-nutrient foods. Also, at the time that my weight and body fat were at their lowest, I was way too thin. My hair was falling out, I got lightheaded in the shower, and I looked pretty skeletal. I was swimming 25-30 hours a week and taking college-level courses, so my stress level was high and I couldn't eat enough to keep up with that level of activity. I mean, I was exercising a lot and my athleticism was off the charts. But it was definitely not my healthiest time.
What makes me the healthiest that I've ever been now is a combination of important factors: my fitness, my nutrition, and the overall composition of my life. My fitness is at a high level right now. I won't say I'm more fit than I was when I was a swimmer, because I think that's a stretch (although I also couldn't run a mile at that time, so how do I really decide?) but at this point in my life I am able to do active things that I enjoy, including running, hiking, and biking, I am strong (though I could and will be stronger in the future) and I exercise regularly. My nutrition is hands-down the best it's ever been in my life--first of all because I finally know what works best for my body, and second because it is just objectively more nutritious--I've never eaten more fruits, vegetables, and high-quality protein. And I enjoy the way I eat and move, which is another important piece of the puzzle. And finally, my life is in an overall good place. I don't work so many hours that I'm constantly stressed and frazzled, my husband no longer lives on the other side of the ocean, and both personally and as a family I can say things are pretty settled and happy these days. (Is it a bad idea to say that on the internet? This seems like asking for trouble.) Not to say that I don't struggle regularly in all of those areas--I do--but my point is that overall, this is a good place to be. And overall is exactly the way we need to look at our health.
For me, being healthy also means that I'm at peace with my body. As a perfectionist, I struggle with loving the parts of myself that aren't perfect. There have definitely been times in my life where I hated any inch of fat anywhere on my body. This self-criticism is so draining. It's exhausting to dislike yourself. My body doesn't look all that different now than it ever has--I've never gained or lost more than 15 pounds, so while things have grown and shrunk and shifted around throughout my adult life, it's never been a huge difference. The difference now is that I'm proud of how I feed myself, and how I move, and I'm at peace with how my body looks as a result of those behaviors. Even better than at peace, some days. The photo above is a funny example of something that's been happening to me a lot, lately--I see myself in the mirror and think, "hey! you look healthy and strong! good for you! take a selfie." And then I do, and I look at the picture and think, "umm, maybe you don't need to take a picture. You can delete that." But liking the reflection is good. And I didn't delete this one--I posted it to the interwebs. So that's something.
What this means to me going forward, and what I think it should mean to you, is this: when I think about my health, I want to look at myself as a whole being and think about factors outside of the simple "how much do I weigh?" or "what size jeans do I wear?" questions. And then, as I'm looking at my holistic health, I want to find areas to improve. Right now, I'm focusing on increasing strength. Part of this goal includes increasing my protein intake, which I'm happy to say is in a pretty good place thanks to the additions of collagen and Shakeology to my daily routine. I've also been focused on running faster this year, though my interest in that has wavered. A constant focus area for me is honing what foods work best for my stomach, though I'm happy to say that after nearly two years on that journey I've got it pretty figured out. A focus area that needs improvement but that I never choose to work on is flexibility. Because I hate stretching with a fiery passion. It's good for you, I just don't like it. Nobody's perfect.
So, what's your health area of improvement? Do you want to drink more water? Sleep more? Improve flexibility? Improve stamina? Get stronger? Get happier? You need to pick specific goals to work toward if you want to see results. And the good news is, there are unlimited goals to choose from. It's a never-ending journey, this wellness stuff. So happy to be on it with you.
Friends, I have some exciting news to share. And I'm nervous to share it, just like I was SO nervous to share Cocoa and Cotton for the first time. What will people think?! What will they say?! It's funny to think about that now, because I love C&C and I don't spend any time worrying about what other people think of it anymore. But putting yourself out there in new ways is scary, and that's what I'm doing today. I've found that the things that give you butterflies in your stomach, and make you feel a little nervous but a lot excited, are the things you've just gotta jump into with both feet. So, I'll stop dragging those feet and tell you the news: I've decided to become a Beachbody Coach. In this post, I want to tell you what that means and why I've decided it's a good fit for me.
So, what is a Beachbody coach? I wrote about Beachbody in this post recently, but to recap, Beachbody is a company that puts out high quality home workout programs like P90X, Insanity, 21 Day Fix, and others, along with some complementary supplements, nutrition plans, and workout equipment. Beachbody coaches are people who use and love the programs, and they facilitate communities of people who want to try the Beachbody programs and products, to help acquaint people with the fitness programs, answer questions, provide tips and insight, and above all provide accountability to people who are looking to improve their fitness. Coaches run accountability groups where their clients check in with workouts and nutrition to stay motivated and work together toward their goals. So, why would I want to do this? Glad you asked. There are four answers to that question.
1) I want to benefit from a community of like-minded, health-focused folks
Part of this is totally selfish--coaching is going to hold me accountable and keep me working toward my fitness goals, and I want that. I've encountered so many confident, happy, inspiring women that are BB coaches and this gives me an excuse to hang out with them. Guys, let me sit at your table. I love you all.
2) I want to bring other people into that community and share everything I've learned (much like I do on this blog)
The scary part about deciding to coach is that people might think I'm trying to sell them things or push programs on them. That makes me nervous, because I don't ever want my friends, family, or readers to think that I want to pressure them to buy BB products or join my groups. I'm not getting into this business to make money off of my friends, or because I want to quit my job (I don't want to quit my job. I'm going to keep doing my job, for many, many years.) But the other side of that coin is that this gives people who might be interested in the health and fitness stuff I love to talk about an opening--it's an easy chance to reach out and say, "Hey, I might want to try that." And that makes me giddy with excitement. So let me just lay this down right now: if you aren't interested in trying Beachbody programs or joining my challenge groups, we're still cool. Pinky swear. And if you ARE interested, I'm psyched out of my mind because that means we get to talk about goals, and cheer each other on when we keep up with our workouts even though life is so busy, and learn more about getting stronger and healthier and happier together. How cool is that??
3) The positivity, energy, and excitement that I've found in the BB fam is unmatched and makes me want to run towards them at full speed
You guys, I can't even tell you how many awesome new girlbosses I've connected with through my very short time with Beachbody. Before I tried a challenge group, I was looking around thinking, "I need to find a Lean In circle." I was looking for young women who are out there slaying and taking names. And I found them! What's awesome about Beachbody is you have coaches who have other full time jobs, coaches who make coaching their full time job, and everyone in between, but all of them are super committed to becoming better leaders, better businesswomen, and leading fuller, happier, healthier lives. Personal development is a huge focus in the BB coaching program, so everybody is out there listening to podcasts and reading books about how to hone their leadership skills, and improve their mindset, and focus their energy on reaching their goals. Everybody's goals are different, and the community supports its members in reaching their own milestones. If I never work with a single client or make a single dollar off Beachbody coaching, it will still be worth it just to have plugged into this awesome group. Not kidding.
4) I love their products
My biggest hang up with Beachbody was definitely Shakeology--I've never tried a protein shake that didn't upset my stomach, and I was really hung up on drinking powdered shakes instead of eating real food. Ten days in to drinking the shakes, I'm totally converted. First of all, Shakeology hasn't upset my stomach once. That's miraculous in itself, given that I struggle with getting enough protein in my diet to build significant muscle (a long-time goal of mine). Also, Shakeology has probiotics in it, and it's the only type of probiotic I've been able to tolerate in the last few years without my system completely overreacting. I used to eat yogurt all the time, but since I cut dairy I've tried probiotics in pill form and in non-dairy yogurts, and all of them have hyper-stimulated my digestive system. Not so with Shakeology--no nausea, no digestive upset. Honestly, I'm shocked.
Second of all, it's delicious. I drink the café latte flavor and blend it with almond milk, peanut butter, a banana, and ice, and it's like drinking a milkshake (except without the stomachache I would get if I drank an actual milkshake). Third of all, it's made from high-quality, real food. The ingredients list is stellar--it's protein and plants. There's spinach, and kale, and spirulina in there, along with all sorts of other fruits and vegetables and fungi and nothing weird or artificial. Ok, fungi is maybe a little weird but very natural. It's obviously still a processed food, there's no avoiding that (let's be real here, it's a powder). But it has lots of vitamins and minerals that I need (I finally don't feel guilty about forgetting to take my multivitamin most days) and it's getting me protein and probiotics that don't make me sick, so I can live with the fact that it's more processed than the raw spinach I put in my other morning smoothie. (Yes, that's right, I'm now drinking a green smoothie for breakfast and Shakeology as a morning or afternoon snack, which gets me one step closer to my goal of only drinking my foods. I'm kidding, eating food is important and good, but I LOVE smoothies. So this is working real well for me.) Finally, I'm still eating my normal real food diet, Shakeology is just a great supplement for me. I've been drinking it to replace a morning or afternoon snack, or on days when I eat a salad from the cafeteria at work, I'll skip adding chicken to my salad (WIN, I hate salad bar chicken but without it my salad just won't keep me full on its own) and will have a vegetarian salad with Shakeology instead. Honestly, this makes me want to do a happy dance. Delicious shake, happy tummy, fresh veggies with no gross salad bar chicken.
On top of Shakeology, Beachbody's workout programs are awesome--which is why I tried a BB challenge group in the first place. There's a huge variety of programs available, so I can plug into something lower-impact (like PiYo, the pilates/yoga combo that still makes my muscles shake) or something that makes me sweat buckets (anything 21 Day Fix, because the creator Autumn Calabrese is an evil genius) or something a little more upbeat and fun (like Cize or Country Heat, the dancing workouts that I'm going to try next!) or something really hardcore and badass (Insanity, P90X). I can do the workouts at home, in half an hour, any time I feel like it.
An Important Note
There's one thing that makes me a little uncomfortable about getting into this business, and it's really important to me to be clear about my position on this from the outset. I don't believe that chiseled, toned, cover-of-a-fitness-magazine bodies are better or more valuable than any other bodies. When a group of people focus on improving fitness for a living, it can be really easy to slip into the habit of putting toned, chiseled bodies on a pedestal and assuming that a "before and after" picture can tell you something about someone's health or worth. This makes me uncomfortable. I don't want to help my clients build a body they can be proud of--I want them to know that the body they have RIGHT NOW is one they can and should be proud of, and I also want to help them to become stronger and feel better and continue working toward their goals. This doesn't mean I don't believe in progress, or that I have a problem with taking photos of physical changes in your body--I find my own progress pictures to be motivating and I love seeing other people share their journeys through photos, too. There's room for improvement in all of our health and fitness, and I have no qualms with helping people get fitter (whatever that means to them) and be healthier and happier. If your goals are aesthetic (I want to be able to fit into this pair of jeans), great. If they're functional (I want to be able to go hiking with my friends or chase my kids around), great. But I won't get on board with the idea that there's anything wrong with you the way you are right now. You are fine as you are, and there is room to improve from where you are today. That is true for absolutely every human on the planet, and it's a key starting point for me as a coach (and a person). I don't think this is counter to the Beachbody platform, or I wouldn't be getting on board with them, I just think Beachbody suffers from the same influences that the rest of our society suffers from--we're told that thin, muscular bodies are better than other bodies. And I want you to know that I don't believe that. I think all bodies are good bodies, and I also know that being active and fit and healthy and strong will improve your quality of life. It can be hard to hold both of those beliefs together, because we get some messed up messages from society. But we can do hard things.
Alright, I know you're here to read about the Ragnar, but can we detour for a second and talk about the fact that it's August 15th already? You guys, WHERE did the summer go?? I've been excited about this race for months, and all of a sudden it's over. And that's for the best, really, because that means I survived. But I just don't know where the time goes.
So, the Ragnar. Quick summary to get everybody on the same page here--the Ragnar Great River is a relay race where teams of 12 (or 6, if you're out of your freaking mind) run 200ish miles between Winona and Minneapolis, non-stop, which took our team about 29 hours. That means we started at 11am on Friday and finished just before 4pm on Saturday, and someone from our team was running consistently (yes, through the night) during that time. Your team splits up into 2 vans, with one van's runners actively running at any given time (and the van leap-frogs the runner to get to the exchange points where runners switch off). The van that's not actively running finds somewhere to stop and eat/sleep, change clothes, and maybe take a shower. The first big twist came when Ragnar sent out a notice on Thursday that part of the race course had to be closed due to flooding, so some of our runners' first legs were canceled. I wasn't one of those runners, so I ran all three legs, and instead of canceling my miles Ragnar tacked on an extra half mile to my last leg to run around some flooded areas. Thanks a bunch.
I was runner 4, and with the extra distance on my third leg my total mileage came out to almost exactly 16 miles. My first leg was 6.6, second leg was 3.4, and last leg was 5.9. With our start time, I ended up running at about 1 on Friday afternoon, midnight between Friday and Saturday, and 9:30ish on Saturday morning. Luckily, our van was led by two wonderful Ragnar experts, who had run the Great River several years in a row and completely ran the show (pun intended). They got us to the exchanges on time, knew where to stop for food and rest time, and told us what to pack. Plus, they did all the driving, like superstars, while the newbies sat in the back wondering whether we should eat or sleep or try to stretch something.
This race really is unlike any other I've ever run in basically every way. To give you a sense of what I mean, here are some of the oddities about Ragnar-ing.
1. You're almost alone on the course. At any other race, everyone starts at the same time and you're running near at least a few other runners at any given time. With Ragnar, they stagger the starts throughout the day on Friday so that everyone's vans aren't all trying to park at the exchanges at the same time (with about 500 teams that would be impossible) but for me this meant I was running alone for a lot of the race. On my first leg, I didn't see anyone until the last half mile of the leg.
2. You're running three times in less than 24 hours. I had a really hard time figuring out how to train for this race...my longest leg was 6.6 miles, which isn't a big deal, but my total mileage was 16 miles in 24 hours, which is a bigger deal (to me, anyway). I ended up focusing on doing training runs on consecutive days, and the week before the race I did three runs between Saturday and Sunday, just to get a feel for it, but I didn't do any training runs longer than 5.5 miles. That ended up working out fine, but I wasn't nearly as confident about my training plan for this type of race.
3. Your eating, sleeping, and all other normal habits are completely disrupted. When you're not running, you're in the van (or having some downtime somewhere else, but mostly in the van). According to my FitBit, I slept for a total of 2 hours and 42 minutes between Friday and Saturday (and they were glorious minutes, every one of them) so we weren't exactly well-rested. We stopped for food at a few restaurants when Van 2 was running, but mostly we ate things that could be kept in a cooler or not cold, and I ate a lot of peanut butter, crackers, bananas, and rice cakes. Plus, you have nervous race stomach the whole time, but you need to keep your energy up because the race lasts more than a day. Not super ideal.
4. I wasn't that worried about my time, which was great. First of all, our team was not caught up in being super competitive (thank goodness). But also, in the course of a 29-hour race I just felt like a few minutes here or there didn't really matter. This really came in handy when my last leg turned out to be all hills and I had zero energy left, because I didn't hesitate to switch to power walking when I needed to. And I did need to....a lot.
5. The course is beautiful, and changes a lot between the legs. My first leg was partly along a highway and partly along the river, and was mostly really pretty. Although, a semi did drive by and blow my running hat off at one point, and I had to run back and climb into the ditch to retrieve it. That was not awesome. My night run was on a gravel road through corn fields, and it was really still and beautiful and there were one bazillion stars shining. There was also an insane manure stench at one point, but just keep running, you know? ALSO, it occurred to me in the middle of that run that I could easily be grabbed by a serial killer and pulled into the cornfield before anyone could notice. It didn't happen, but it could have happened. I don't know, maybe I shouldn't have watched The Lovely Bones before the race.
My last leg started in Afton, Minnesota along the roads there and turned off into a state park, where we ran along the hiking trails for the last three miles. There were lots of hikers in the park with hiking boots and poles, looking at us like we were insane (because what are you guys even doing here??) That's a fair reaction. I can admit that. This leg also included a hill that spanned an entire mile. From mile 1 to mile 2 was straight hill. I mean, come on.
6. There aren't mile markers. This was alright for me because I use Map My Run, but if you don't use GPS not having mile markers can be really disorienting. The only markers along the route are these "one mile to go" markers that make you want to do a celebration dance, because they mean you only have one mile left on your leg. My last leg didn't have a one mile to go sign, but again, thanks to Map My Run, I knew I was almost done. My teammates who didn't use GPS lamented seeing signs giving directions (i.e. "Ragnar Relay turns right here") that they mistakenly thought were the One Mile To Go signs, only to realize as they got closer that there was...more than one mile to go.
7. The weather is bizarre. In past years, the race has been unbearably hot (apparently the heat index last year was close to 110) and even though the days were not outrageously hot for us, it was still about 85 degrees with considerable humidity. It didn't feel awful when you were standing still, but as soon as you started running it was HOT. And then, once the sun went down, the weather was pleasant for running but freezing for standing still. I was wearing sweatpants, a sweater, and wrapped in a blanket shivering in the van while my teammates ran their night legs.
All in all, the Ragnar was exactly what you'd expect it to be: a fun and insane experience that I'm proud to say I finished, and I'm happy to not do every weekend. Or maybe ever again. We'll see.
I hope everyone's weeks are off to a great start. I think it's going to take me several more days to catch up on the rest I missed this weekend, so mine is dragging a little. Wish me luck.
The Ragnar has been conquered!!! A full race recap is coming your way this week, but for now I'm catching up on sleep and eating all of the things, including these awesome zoodles (zucchini noodles). Writing this blog has made me realize that I cook interesting meals a lot more often in the winter than in the summer, because we're too busy enjoying the nice weather to spend too much time in the kitchen in the summertime. But this recipe is a standby that I haven't shared yet, so it's coming your way today.
These zoodles aren't strict paleo/Whole 30 the way I make them, because they have peanut butter, but you could easily swap in almond or cashew butter to make them compliant. If you're going that route, I would also add a smidge of tahini to keep the flavor really nutty. And, because I'm starting the 21 Day Fix Extreme tomorrow and getting familiar with my portion control containers, I'll include the 21DF container counts for anyone following that program. Enjoy!!
Makes 4 servings, 21 Day Fix containers are 1 green, 1 red, and 2 tsp per serving
2 medium/large zucchini or summer squash (I used one of each)
1 Tbs olive oil
1Tbs garlic, chopped
Shrimp (I used frozen pre-cooked and just thawed it--if following 21DF measure 1 red container per portion)
4 tsp peanut butter
2 Tbs coconut aminos
1 tsp fish sauce (I like Red Boat)
1 tsp sesame oil
squirt of sriracha or pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
sesame seeds, for garnish
1. Spiralize your zucchini into noodles. I love my countertop spiralizer, but you can also buy a handheld one (look for vegetti brand or similar) for under ten dollars. If you're not yet a veggie noodle convert I highly recommend trying zoodles--they're easy to cook and such an easy swap to get more veggies in your diet. You can even mix them with traditional spaghetti half and half to lower your carbs/grains and sneak in some extra veggies if you still want the traditional pasta texture.
2. Add your olive oil and garlic to a medium skillet and cook over medium heat until garlic is fragrant. Add your zoodles and cook them for 3-5 minutes, tossing frequently, until they are brighter green but still fairly firm.
3. Add the sauce ingredients to a small bowl and whisk everything together with a fork. When you start mixing this all up, it's going to look chunky and like the peanut butter will never integrate with the other sauce ingredients. Keep mixing, it will all smooth out. When it's all pretty smooth, add a tiny bit of water (like 1 tsp or so) and mix that in to make everything really smooth and creamy-looking. I added way too much water and it got a bit soupy. Go slow with the water.
4. Add your sauce to your skillet with zoodles and turn your heat back on to medium for another 3-5 minutes, until the zoodles are cooked to the texture you prefer (I like them cooked past the point of being crunchy but not so long that they're mushy).
Once your zoodles are done cooking, add your shrimp and toss everything together to warm the shrimp. Transfer to serving containers (or meal prep containers, if you're cooking for the week like I was) and garnish with sesame seeds.
If you find your zoodles are too long to manage easily use a spatula or knife to make two cuts lengthwise across the pile (in a + shape) to give yourself noodles that are easier to handle.
This recipe is also awesome with sweet potato noodles if you're looking for something with more starch, but the zucchini version is perfect for a light summer meal. Have a great week, friends!
I have such a hot tip for you today. You guys, two of the very best people in the health and wellness world are making a podcast together. It's called The Living Experiment, and it's coming to you every week from Dallas Hartwig, co-creator of The Whole 30 and owner of one of my most favorite Instagram feeds, and Pilar Gerasimo, creator and former Editor In Chief of Experience Life Magazine and owner of one of the best voices on the planet. I listened to the first episode tonight while I ran my LAST RAGNAR TRAINING RUN and I took these two beautiful photos (because Minneapolis was showing off so hard) and life was good. Also I was sweating so much that sweat kept forming droplets on the end of my nose, which was very distracting. Obviously I took a picture of that too, and I'll even share. You're welcome.
There. Don't ever say I only showed you the flattering sides of my life. But, ok. So. The Living Experiment. I love the podcast globally because I think Dallas and Pilar bring very grounded and fresh voices to the health and fitness world. They both grew up in non-urban, sort of separated-from-society settings for some portion of their childhoods (Dallas on a homestead without electricity or running water, Pilar on a farm that was only slightly more modern) and have definitely joined the mainstream media and world as adults, Dallas putting forth the Whole 30 program and all of the speaking and writing and engagement that came along with that, and Pilar working on the Experience Life magazine that Lifetime Fitness puts out to all of its club members. I respect them both immensely because I think they do a great job of engaging with the modern world and speaking to everyday Americans while pushing back on the modern American lifestyle, and somehow they don't seem judgmental or snooty about any of it. That's not easy.
Specifically, the first episode of their podcast made two points that I love deeply. The first is that they'd like to engage with people who are interested in becoming healthier and happier, but they want those people to know that: 1) you're fine as you are right now, and 2) there's room for improvement in where you are right now. I slowed down in my run at this point and momentarily searched for a pen (none to be found on the lakeshore path, obviously) because this was one of those statements that made my soul scream, "YES!" and I wanted to write it down. This is exactly how I feel about engaging with people about health and fitness and wellness. You're fine as you are. You're whole and there's nothing about yourself that needs fixing. But of course you could be healthier. You could be more well. There's room for improvement in all of us humans, on the fronts of nutrition and fitness and wellness and all sorts of other things. I think improvement in those areas is important and I love nothing more than to engage with others that are also seeking improvement. But it's so important to recognize at the outset that this is not about fixing. You are not broken. You're fine as you are right now, and there's also room for improvement.
The second point is that the "experiment" part is really important, because no one set of rules works for everyone. This is the most important essence of the Whole 30 to me--the point of the Whole 30 is to eliminate foods that might be causing less-than-desirable reactions in your body, and then to reintroduce them to see if they are, in fact, having negative effects. The point of the Whole 30 is NOT that grains or dairy or legumes are evil. They aren't. The point is to find out how YOUR body tolerates different foods, because there's no way for you to know that without experimenting on yourself.*** And relying on nutritionists or doctors or researchers to make generalizations about food, exercise, or any other aspect of your individual life is missing the point that you are an individual person with individual needs. The approach that Pilar and Dallas propose, then, is to take this information as a suggestion and introduce it into your own personal experiment. For example: I recently wrote about dietary collagen supplements. I read about the potential benefits of collagen, and I introduced that supplement into my diet to see how my body responded to it. This allows me to assess whether something that is beneficial to others is also beneficial to me personally, but doesn't assume that a study on the general population would always predict my own personal results. This mindset is important: when I hear about stretching after exercise, for example, and read about a study that found that 15 minutes of stretching after strenuous exercise drastically improved some health metric, instead of thinking, "Ugh, another thing I don't do when I should" I might think, "Maybe after this week's runs I'll add some stretching and see how it makes me feel." Because I already feel pretty good, and I don't stretch...almost ever, but I acknowledge that there may be some benefits to that activity that I'm not realizing, and I'm willing to give it a try and see how I personally react to it. This approach is empowering, because it takes the responsibility away from the experts and puts it back on you, the person most knowledgeable about your own self. And I think it's liberating, because instead of committing to an idea that might seem overwhelming to you, or getting bogged down by all the things you "should" be doing, it lets you take a let's-just-try-this approach. Just see how it goes. See what you think, and go from there. I love that.
So, listen. Subscribe to The Living Experiment. It's free and it will enrich your life, and I want more people who I can talk to about the episodes. Thx.
***I need to embark on a small rant here, but I'll do you the courtesy of separating it from the rest of the post. This point is exactly why I get really ragey when people complain about the "stupid trend" of gluten free diets, or belittle people who avoid gluten because they believe such diets are a fad or are not healthier or better. Listen: I am wholly committed to a gluten free diet and I don't think gluten free diets are universally healthier or better. I don't think gluten is evil and I don't think it's intrinsically bad or unhealthy. It's a protein and many people seem to tolerate it just fine. I don't. It makes me violently ill, and I do not have celiac disease. But listen, folks, we are all different. My digestive system is a little bit of a diva, and she doesn't like gluten. I wish she felt differently, because baguettes, but I REALLY wish we could accept that it's ok for people to make their own choices when it comes to what they eat and how they move, based on what they've learned works best in their personal living experiment. You don't have to eat the way I eat. You don't have to exercise the way I exercise. And vice versa. If we could all accept those ground rules I think we'd be a lot better off interacting with one another.