Monday, January 26, 2015

Inside the Mind of the Non-running Runner

Being sick this past week was really horrendous. Not only was I feeling shitty but I felt so badly, I couldn't run. Granted, the first couple of days I wasn't feeling well enough to run. But then I was pissed that after a few days of rest, I was better but still not well enough to run. So not only was I feeling badly because of being sick, but I was grumpy because I couldn't run on top of everything. It reminded me of times when I was healthy but yet couldn't run due to injury. Being a runner who can't run is really agonizing.

Periods of time of non-running are very hard for many runners to deal with, for a number of reasons. While most runners actually look forward to the little break for a welcome rest, others completely freak out. Panic sets in after a few days. Thoughts come flooding in: "Will I ever run again?" "Will all the hard work I've done go to waste?" "What if I can't get back to where I was?" And so on. Here's a look into the mind of the runner who just can't run. WARNING: it isn't pretty.

First and foremost, injuries and illnesses cause physical pain. You've pulled a hamstring, torn a ligament, have a cold or flu. It hurts. It sucks. While this is something most people expect to deal with when sick or injured, what may be more unexpected is the emotional pain this can bring. Many runners can get slightly depressed when they're dealing with an injury, especially for those that require weeks, if not months, of rest. Most runners can tell you that running is more than just a hobby for them. It's part of who they are. And when they can't run, even for a few days, some runners don't know how to deal with themselves. They suddenly have all this time and can't do the one thing they love the most. The non-runner may not completely understand this, and that's the main reason why I'm writing this. Some non-runners actually think we would enjoy taking time off and we're crazy for getting crazy because we can't run. True, we are crazy because we can't run. Here's why: 

Many runners use running as therapy, myself included. When we are feeling stressed and frazzled, running serves as a way to release that stress. We take out our frustrations on the roads, trails, our shoes. We blast music, we run fast, we get it all out so when we're done, we don't punch people in the face. When we can't get do this, we don't know how else to deal with our stress. Instead, we feel helpless.

Another aspect that may be lost for runners with injuries is the social aspect of running. For many runners, their runs with their friends are much-anticipated social gatherings. This is the time they catch up and talk about what's going on in life. When they can't participate, injured runners often feel left out of their social circle, and for some, cut off from their social support. Personally speaking, the time I spend with my Sole Sisters is one of the highlights of my week. And social media DOES NOT HELP at all. Seeing pictures of all my friends happily running their weekly long runs or accomplishing some feat without me is kinda disgusting. Ugh. 

How to Deal

It's really important to look at your time differently while injured, or sick. While it is heartbreaking not being able to run, you have to use this time to take care of yourself. You're injured or sick because your body has a weakness. You have to help that weakness get strong and the only way to do that is rest. Injury or illness is your body's way of telling you to back off. Try to figure out why you got injured in the first place and get stronger. In the case of sickness, if you don't take the time to rest and recover, you will only prolong your illness and possibly make it worse. That's what I had to remind myself of all week. And this is what I came up with after dwelling on it all week:

Try your best to stay positive and upbeat. While it's so easy to get depressed over your not running, it's important to understand that this happens to most runners at some point during their training. You are forced to take a few days, maybe even a week, off from running. Sometimes more. But remember, you will get back on the roads and sometimes the only way to get there is by resting and taking care of yourself. If you don't take the time to get better, it will only take longer to recover. Trust me, this is not the end of your running career. It's just a minor setback. 

Find other ways to cope with stress. If other forms of exercise are out, returning to other interests that may have been ignored for some time is one way to deal with stress. Start a new book, learn how to knit, or catch up on your movie watching. Whatever you find enjoyable, take this time to reintroduce yourself to it. During this week of being sick, I returned to sleeping! It sounds ridiculous but I wasn't waking up early to run so I was actually able to sleep a bit each morning. This is the main reason I got better.

Stay in touch with your running friends. Call, email, text, whatever you did to set up your runs, do it now. You know that you don't have to just see each other when you're running. Set up a time to see a movie, grab dinner, or just talk. Let your friends know that you're feeling left out from the running talk and even though you're not running, you still want to stay in the loop. But do expect conversation to include running talk.

Talk about how you feel. Let the people in your life, both running and non-running, know that you are going through a hard time. They will be there to listen and be a source of support as you get through your injury. So if you don't want to really listen or can't participate in the running talk, let them know. Or make plans for when you are back on the roads.

Enjoy yourself. If your injury allows it, try out a new form of exercise. Go swimming, go for a bike ride. Try yoga. Work on your strength training. This is actually quite important in preventing future injuries. Chances are whatever you end up doing will help keep your fitness up so when you do return to running, you're not starting completely from square 1.

Dealing with injuries or prolonged illness is hard for many runners. But if you accept the fact that you're injured and use the time to find out other things about yourself, it may just be a little easier to move forward.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Should you run when sick?

I have been down and out all week with a chest cold. I have the works: runny nose, sneezing, aches and pains, a cough and a giant elephant sitting on my chest. It hurts and I haven't run since Sunday. Some may say I'm a wimp and I should just run through it. I have several races on the horizon and, admittedly, I am getting a little nervous about the time off. But I also know that if I push myself when I'm feeling this badly, I'm likely not to get better.

So, when should you run when you're sick? The general rule of thumb is to go by your symptoms. If you have symptoms just from the neck up (sneezing, nasal congestion, but no fever or chest infection symptoms), chances are you're ok for some easy running. Notice I said easy. Don't expect to run at your normal pace, intensity or even mileage, but you can run without really making things worse. If your symptoms include a fever, back away from the running shoes. This is a sure sign your body is working very hard to get rid of the infection and running will only make it worse. If your symptoms include chest congestion, trouble breathing, deep cough or more, you should take some time off and rest. And running is not rest. 

Have the flu? Forget about it. Really, if your symptoms are making you feel badly, running is only going to prolong your sickness. But if you're well enough to go about your day, not take time off work, then a short, easy run is probably ok. Use how you feel as a guide. You know how running through an injury usually makes the injury worse? Same goes with illness. Your body needs time to get through the illness, and recover from it. 

As the doctors always say, make sure you drink plenty of fluids while you're sick. This is especially important if you take any decongestant because, by nature, that type of medication will dry you out. Drinking plenty of fluids will help keep you hydrated and your circulation moving to get rid of whatever bug bit you. Same goes for your nutrition: aim for eating as cleanly as possible. Research suggests that refined sugars can suppress your immune system, so try to avoid processed foods and sugary drinks while you're under the weather. 

Once your symptoms are subsiding and you've gone through a 24-hour period without feeling like complete crap, it may be time to don the running shoes and hit the road. Again, don't expect to run like you normally do. Take a day or two to run easy and then start getting back into your normal groove. Trying to get back into things too quickly can lead you right back to your sickbed, especially if you had the flu or other multi-system infection.  

No runner really likes to take a break from running, even when sick. But taking a few days off to rest and get well may be the difference between a short-lived sickness to a full-blown, down-for-the-count sickfest. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Show Me the Cabbage

When one thinks of roasted vegetables, chances are cabbage is not among them. In fact when you think of vegetables at all, chances are cabbage isn't one you think of first. I admit cabbage certainly isn't my go-to veggie but because it's included in our CSA vegetables regularly, I've come to enjoy this little green delight. And, what's more, is it's a health powerhouse, making it not only good but good for you.

As a member of the cruciferous family, cabbage is a great source of antioxidants and phytonutrients known to play a role in cancer prevention. These nutrients also help lower LDL cholesterol, which can help manage and prevent heart disease. In addition, cabbage is high in fiber and is loaded with vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin K, Vitamin C, several of the B vitamins (such as B1, B5, B6 and folate) as well as potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron.

Thankfully enjoying cabbage goes far beyond your average bowl of cole slaw. This roasted cabbage recipe is so delicious, you'll forget you're eating cabbage. Now, you don't want to cook cabbage too long because it will lose its health benefits the longer it cooks. You want the leaves to still retain their crunch.

Roasted Cabbage

1 tbs coconut oil
1-3 heads of green cabbage, outer leaves removed
Sea salt
Black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. I usually get anywhere from 1-3 heads of cabbage at a time, so that's why there's a variation in the amount. Regardless, remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and chop off the thick stem at the bottom. Cut the cabbage head in half, and then half again, making wedges. Place 1 tbs of coconut oil in a spoon. Using another spoon, lightly rub some oil on each cabbage wedge. Dip the one spoon into the oil and rub it onto the wedge. Sprinkle salt and pepper to your liking.

Place your wedges on a rimmed baking sheet that's been sprayed with high-heat coconut oil spray. Roast the cabbage for about 10-15 minutes, until you see the edges browning some. Remove and eat up!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Getting Rad for Carlsbad Part 3: Keep your head in the race!

The Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon is just days away and I'm hoping to help with my Getting Rad for Carlsbad blog series. The first blog post in the series discussed general tapering tips. The second post discussed what and how much to run (and eat!) in the final days before the race. Even with all this info, chances are your anxiety level about the race is nearing its pique in these final days. Running is just as much mental as it is physical and, it may be hard to believe, but races have been won and lost based on the mental fitness of its runners. Here are some tips to keeping your head in the race.

Accept that you're going to be nervous. Understanding, and ultimately accepting, that you will be nervous will give you one less thing to be anxious about. You won't have to ask, "Why am I so nervous? Am I the only one?" Everyone is nervous the days before a race, and especially in the last several hours. Let yourself be nervous. Just keep it under control. Have you ever wondered why people hoot and holler at the beginning of a race? They're just blowing off some steam. Give it a try and you'll probably feel a little better. Once that gun goes off, and you've screamed your head off, your butterflies will be history.

Use your head. Fear of the unknown is often the root of most pre-race jitters. That's why repeatedly visualizing the race beforehand will settle you down. Visualize yourself getting up race morning, eating, getting dressed, getting to the race site, toeing the line and then running. Doing this several times before the race will make it seem like you've done it all before. Also, if you're able to, run or bike part or all of the race course. If you can't do this in person, check out the race website, as it has plenty of course information for both the marathon and the half marathon. This is a sure fire way to give yourself an edge over your nerves. If you know what to expect, you're less likely to be stressed about it.

Trust in your training. You put in the time and miles getting ready for this race. You have to trust that work and know you are ready come race day. Sure, everyone (even the elite runners) feels like they could have done more. But on race morning, that doesn't matter anymore. Know you've done all you can and you will get through the race. Be confident in your ability and what you have done up until race day.

Ditch the doubts. We really are our own worst enemies. Even with proper preparation, we still doubt whether or not we can actually do something. But we are the ones that create those doubts, no one else. And runners are especially guilty of doing this. We are so hard on ourselves. We have to ditch the doubts and negative talk and keep an open mind. When you're confident in yourself, anything is possible.

Remember that the training is the hard part. If you think about it, training for a long distance race is often more difficult than the actual race itself. Finding the time to run, working it in around all of your other obligations, getting enough sleep, eating well, etc., is a lot to do. And you are doing it for months before race day. That is the hard part of running a race. The race is the easy part. It is your victory lap around everything you have done to get there.

Enjoy the rewards. Through your training and hard work, you earned every right to be at that race and cross the finish line. Feel proud you're running a race that you may not have thought was ever possible. At the starting line, and throughout the race, look for and enjoy the positive experiences. Listen to the amazing stories of how your fellow runners got there. Read the signs the spectators are carrying (there are often some great ones out there!). When you're done, savor the joy of crossing the finish line. Stick around to cheer on and congratulate several other runners. They will appreciate your support and you'll feel great.

Sign up for your next race. Having another race on the calendar before you toe the line for this one will give you mental and physical momentum. I don't recommend racing every weekend, or even in the following weeks after a tough race, but once or twice a month will keep you energized and challenged. What's more, signing up for another race can head off any post-race blues that may be lurking. Sometimes all the build-up and then racing can leave us feeling a little let down when it's all over. Your race was something big to focus on for months. Give yourself another goal to set your sights on so you don't feel let down when this race is over.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Getting Rad for Carlsbad Part 2: Eat, Sleep, Race!

This week we are focusing on the week before a big race. Thousands of people are running the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon this weekend, and I'm hoping to help with my Getting Rad for Carlsbad series of articles. Yesterday I discussed general tapering tips. In this second post, we are going to focus on how to physically prepare for race day. While you've done most of the running you can do up to this point, there are still some little tweaks you can make to your training to maximize your taper period, ensuring you are feeling your best come race day.

The two factors that will have the most affect on your taper, and ultimately your race, are how much you rest and how much you eat. The taper period doesn't mean you stop running. It means you reduce the total number of miles you run, and as you get closer to the race, you begin to reduce intensity. With that said, if you haven't been doing higher-intensity runs as part of your training (speed work, hill workouts, tempo runs, etc.), the week before the race is not the time to give those types of workouts a try. If you trained without speed work and just ran your miles at an easy pace, that's the intensity you will reduce as you get closer to race day. If you did higher intensity workouts as part of your training, you can still do them, just don't run for as long or as hard. Here's a general outline of pre-race running that will give you an idea of what to do before race day:
  1. Seven days before the race: Run at a moderate intensity for about 90 minutes (your last long run, at long-run pace).
  2. Six days before the race: Rest
  3. Five days before the race: Run at moderate intensity for about 30-40 minutes (long run pace).
  4. Four days before the race: Rest or run at moderate intensity for about 20-30 minutes (long run pace).
  5. Three days before the race: Run at moderate intensity for about 20-30 minutes (long run pace).
  6. Two days before the race: Rest
  7. Day before the race: Run at very low intensity for about 20 minutes (slower than long run pace). This is often called the "shake-out run." It's designed to loosen the legs and reduce that heavy, stiff feeling you may get when you start running the race. It also reduces some of the anxiety not running can bring.
Outside of your running, try to stay off your feet and relax as much as possible. Avoid any out-of-the-ordinary physical activity. Don't use this time to try some new cross-training activity.

Your nutrition in the week before your race is key to your race-day performance. Many runners use the taper period to go overboard and eat way more calories than they need. Often in the name of "carb-loading," runners gorge themselves on starchy foods throughout the week before their race. Your body can only store so much glycogen and eating more calories (and carbohydrates) than you need will only result in storing what is leftover as fat. This results in weight gain. While small weight gains of a pound or two are not a big deal, gaining more than 5 lbs in the week before the race will have you feeling heavy and sluggish come race day. Here is a general pre-race nutrition for the week before the race. Keep in mind, this is a general outline and should be modified for your specific needs.
  1. Seven to four days before the race: Eat your normal amount of calories. Match your diet to your training and only eat your normal amount of food. For carbohydrates, this is about 3 grams of carbs per 1 lb of weight, or 450g of carbs for a 150lb person. Keep in mind that most carbohydrate foods range from 30-60g of carbs per serving. So your morning bagel can be 60g, add some fruit for 30g and you already have 90g of carbs. Carbs add up quickly, so be mindful that while you need to eat an appropriate amount, you don't have to go overboard. 
  2. Three days to the day before the race: If you're running the marathon, increase your total carb intake to about about 4-5 grams of carb per 1 lb of weight, or 600-750g for a 150lb person. You may want to just do this 2-3 days before the race and go back to your regular diet the day before the race to ensure you don't overeat the day before the race. If you're running the half marathon, you can stick with the 3g of carb per 1 lb of body weight amount. There's no need for you to increase your carbs at this point. 
To get an idea of the amount of carbs in various foods, check out this chart from the Indiana University Health System. Pay close attention to the serving amounts. You'll notice they are very small and we typically eat 2-3 times a serving.

Some other things to consider in this final week before the race:
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the week to prevent dehydration. Don't go overboard, just be sure your urine is light yellow to clear. If you're flying to Carlsbad for the race, this will be especially important.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol the week before the race. Alcohol affects glycogen storage, not to mention dehydrates you.
  • Keep taking in your protein but remember to only eat what you need. The average runner only needs 0.5 to 0.6g of protein per pound of body weight per day. And even with a race looming, you don't need to increase this, especially since you're reducing your miles and intensity. Refer to my post about how to figure out your protein requirements. 
  • Try to avoid high-fat, high-fiber, overly spicy or unfamiliar foods in the week before the race. This is especially important for those of us with sensitive stomachs. Just stick with the types of foods you ate throughout your training.
  • Don't cut back on salt in your food this week before the race, especially if you tend to sweat a lot.
  • Don't go crazy the night before the race. Focus on high-carb foods but you don't need to eat a pound of pasta. Try to eat your normal amount of food early in the evening to avoid any stomach distress and/or that full, heavy feeling the morning of the race.
Stay tuned to tomorrow's post about keeping your mental focus in the final days before the race! 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Getting Rad for Carlsbad Part 1: Tips for Tapering

This Sunday, runners from all over the world will be hitting the streets in Carlsbad for the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon. I'll be there running with a friend as she tackles her first marathon. If you're one of the participants, chances are the anxiety of months of preparation is starting to get to you. To help you deal with the final days before the race, I'll be posting some race ready tips each day this week. Sit back, relax, and know that all your hard work and dedication will pay off come Sunday.

The taper period before a race is often the most difficult for many runners. Cutting back on mileage seems counter-intuitive and many worry they will lose fitness in the weeks before the race. Tapering is about adapting to the stress your body endured during training. The taper period, usually the 2-3 weeks before a distance race, enables your muscles, bones, joints, etc., to recover from that stress and be in prime condition for your race. It also gives your head time to regroup and mentally prepare for the big day. So many runners train hard right up to the day of the race because they think they'll lose fitness if they don't. What they don't realize is that in those last few weeks it's the rest more than the work that makes you strong. You simply can't "cram" for a race. Also, you don't lose fitness in 2-3 weeks of tapering. In fact, studies show that your fitness doesn't change at all during the taper period.

Here are some important tips to make the most out of your taper period:

Prioritize your taper period as you did your training. Don't ignore your taper plan by running longer or harder than you should. Keep as close to your training plan as possible. Running on different days of your schedule, or at different lengths or faster paces, may not give you the maximum amount of time to recover before race day. Also, it isn't good to just skip runs all together. You still need to keep your legs loose and your muscles working. Lastly, don't fill up your extra time with time on your feet or stressful situations. Use it to prepare for your race by sleeping, eating, stretching, and relaxing!

Visualize your race. This is always really hard for some people. But I like to visualize the days leading up to the race and the race itself. I picture myself going through the motions of preparing the night before and the morning of. I picture myself getting dressed, eating, going to the race, going through my warm-up, etc. and then starting. Even if you've never run a race before you can do this by picturing what you've been doing every week for your long runs. Getting things ready the night before, waking up, having breakfast, riding to the run, and so on. Doing this over and over can help by easing your nerves as it will begin to seem like second nature to prepare. It can remind you what you need to get together the night before the race and what you will need race morning. It can also remind you that you've done this many times as you've trained for the race. You have done this. You lace up every weekend to run long. The race is just another long run with thousands of your closest friends :)

Keep it slow. For every run you do for the remaining time before the race, try to run at your long-run pace (1-2 minutes slower than race pace). You may find your runs are all over the place anyway. Some feel good, some are awful and you're convinced you won't be able to get through the race. TRUST ME, this is normal and you WILL get through the race. Trust in your training. 

If you've been strength training, stop or ease up. Strength training at this point in your training won't really help your race. The point of strength training is to fatigue the muscles and that's the last thing you want to do before your race. Strength training will also use up much of that stored glycogen needed for your race. You can resume strength training once you're recovered from the race.

Don't wear new shoes. If you've recently purchased new running shoes for race-day, chances are they won't be broken in enough before the race. If you have no choice but to wear the new shoes or no shoes, wear them as much as possible to break them in as much as possible by race day. If you haven't purchased them yet, don't. There isn't really enough time to break them in during the week before a race. Even if you're running in the same exact model shoe as always, you can still get blisters if your shoes aren't broken in. Trust me on that one!

Emphasize carbs, especially in the last 3 days before the race. As much as 60-65 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrate sources. Whole-grains, potatoes, vegetables and fruit are healthy choices. The trick is to exercise portion control and not go crazy with "carb-loading." I will get into more detail regarding carb-loading later in the week.

Keep those calories coming. Your body still needs to repair tissue damaged during your mileage build-up. This is no time to diet. Even though you're running less, resist the temptation to cut way back on calories. You're probably focusing on your carb intake, which is helpful. But don't forget the other nutrients. Protein will help you metabolize glucose to maximize your energy. It will also promote muscle recovery, which is a key aspect of the taper period. Be sure your diet includes a good proportion of dietary fat (up to 30 percent of your daily calories). This will be beneficial because it will be used as an addional energy source along with stored carbs. Fat reserves can therefore help you avoid that nasty wall towards the end of your race. Eat foods that are high in unsaturated fat, such as nuts, lean protein and avocados. Limit foods that are high in saturated fat and trans fats, such as pizza and ice cream.

Wash it all down with fluids. Alcoholic beverages don't count toward your fluid totals (or your carbs, for you wise guys). Stick with water, sports drink, and natural fruit juices (100% juice). Remember, you wake up in a dehydrated state so start your fluid intake as soon as you get up in the morning. You know you're adequately hydrated if your urine is clear or pale yellow in color by lunchtime and stays that way for the rest of the day.

Don't restrict the salt in your diet. Low salt intake combined with excessive hydration can lead to hyponatremia, a rare but dangerous condition that can affect long-distance runners. Drinking coconut water, sports drinks and snacking on salted popcorn and pretzels will help keep your sodium levels up.

Don't look at the scale. With all that eating and drinking, you're likely to gain a couple pounds during your taper. Don't worry about it. It won't be significant enough to affect your performance and you'll lose those pounds by the finish line anyway.

Take Vitamin C or a multi-vitamin. A lot of runners for some reason get sick in the final weeks before a race. Try your best to stay healthy and avoid especially germy situations. A supplement like Emergen-C is great. Not only does it contain your daily requirement of Vitamin C, but it also contains several other key vitamins and minerals that will help you feel good come race day.

And don't forget...
  • Don't do anything overly tiring. The chores can be done after your race.
  • Don't try anything new. No new foods, drinks, clothes or sports. Now is not the time to try that yoga class you've always wanted to join.
  • Don't get a sports massage unless it's part of your routine. You may feel bruised a couple days afterward if you're not accustomed to it.
  • Stay off your feet and catch up on movies, books, and sleep. If you go to the pre-race expo, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and don't do more walking around than necessary.
  • Be prepared for your mind to play tricks on you. You may feel a twinge of an injury, for example. This is usually your mind playing tricks on you and nothing to worry about. If you're really concerned, don't push it through your remaining runs. Take it extra slow, walk if necessary, and ice after your run. See a sports doctor for reassurance that nothing is wrong.

The taper period can be unbearable for some runners. If you're used to intense, high-mileage weeks, the final week before a race is torture. You can feel anxious or even depressed. That's ok. By focusing on the things you should be doing, such as resting, eating well, running slowly, etc., you won't focus on what you are not doing (running long and hard). Besides, you'll be running long and hard Sunday morning.

Try to enjoy your taper. It's the only time you don't have to feel guilty for not running as many miles as usual. Feeling good and strong during your race will make all the down-time worth it!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Are your goals SMART?

Last night, I hosted a twitter chat with my friends from EnergyBits. It was such a blast. They host a weekly chat every Tuesday at 5pm PST, 8pm EST. This week I had the privilege of hosting and our discussion was all about realistic goal setting. This topic is talked about a lot but it's more of a general thing - how it's important to set goals, etc. But what if we took some time to analyze these goals and tweaked them slightly so we increased the likelihood of actually reaching them? As with anything in life, preparation is a key to success and if you don't take the time to prepare, you're setting yourself up for a let down. If you're ready to make some goals, try to go about it in a SMART way.

pic from
Have you heard of SMART goals? This is a great tool to make sure your goals are actually achievable. SMART stands for

S - specific
M - measurable
A- attainable
R - realistic
T - timely

Specific. When people set goals for themselves, they often set a goal like "get in shape" or "eat better." What does that mean? How will you go about it? Your goal needs to be more specific in order for you to actually go about achieving it. In both of those examples, the goal is so vague, and you probably don't really know how to go about reaching it, so you might as well not even bother. For "eat better," let's make it a little more specific, looking at some "W" questions: who will do this; where will this happen; what do I mean by eat better; when will I do this?

We can try to hash it out like this:

Who: me, I will eat better
Where: I'll cook at home in order to eat better because I eat out every night
What do I mean by eat better: I want to eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods
When: I will cook more at home (and therefore eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods) at least 4 nights a week

Measurable. This means you are going to set a goal that can be tracked. You can track your progress in some way and see where you are successful and where you could use some improvement. Let's look at the "eat better" goal (which is now "I will cook more at home, using fruits and vegetables and less processed foods, at least 4 nights a week). Get a weekly calendar. You can use your calendar app on your phone. Looking at your schedule each week, choose the 4 nights you will be cooking at home. Then either on a daily or weekly basis, write down whether or not you cooked at home (other things like what you cooked, if it was easy to make, if you and your family liked it, etc. are helpful to keep track of as well). This will help keep you accountable as well as help you plan future meals based on how well they are received and how easy they are to make. For accountability, you can also use an app like MyFitnessPal where you log in your meals and others can see what you're making. I also like Fooducate because it rates the healthiness of the foods you're eating.  

Attainable. This is important. This is where you develop your plan. You start figuring out the ways in which you can reach your goals. Going back to the "eat better" goal, we know we're now cooking at home at least 4 nights a week. What the heck are we cooking? Well, you can download one of the thousands of meal planning apps and try to figure it out that way. You can ask someone for help to plan your meals for you (like me ;) ) or you can look through your cookbooks, magazines and websites for meals you think you may like that are healthy. I like the Yummly app that is user driven. I also love Thug Kitchen (not safe for work language). Personally, I've tried some of the meal planning apps and I always just go back to figuring it out myself. Every Sunday I plan the week's meals. We get vegetables from a CSA (Be Wise Ranch woot, woot) and they post the week's veggies on Sundays. I look up what we're going to get and then look up some recipes. I find the recipes or make them up myself, and then list them by day of the week in my Notes app on my phone. I then add the ingredients to our grocery shopping app (we use GroceryIQ but I know there are others) and that's it! The meals are planned.

Regardless of how you go about planning, know when to ask for help. It can get pretty overwhelming trying to figure everything out on your own. Whether it's trying to run a marathon, eat better, organize your closet, fix your finances or more, you have to ask for help when you are out of your realm of expertise. This is all part of being prepared and doing what you can to reach your goals. Whether you hire a coach, a financial planner or other pro to help you, be sure you tap into your own personal network for help too.

Realistic. This one is a little tricky. It's ok to have lofty goals. If we don't choose goals that are big, we don't grow. It's ok for a non-runner to say they want to run a marathon and qualify for Boston. That's ok. Is it realistic? Yes and no. It's not realistic if that non-runner is expecting it to happen in 3 months. It is realistic if said non-runner sets the time frame at 1 or 2 years and then has smaller, more manageable goals that lead up to the main goal of running a marathon and qualifying for Boston. It's ok to have big, huge goals. I encourage it! But it's also important to be realistic and go about it smartly.

Timely. We've already touched on this in a way. Timely goals have an end point. We want to set an amount of time to reach our goals because if we don't, it's too easy to give up. Someday is really vague and allows you to push things off until tomorrow, the next day, next week, etc. With a time frame, you don't have a lot of wiggle room to push things off. For our "eat better" goal, saying you want to cook at home 4 days a week by the end of January gives you some time to work up to that goal. You don't have to go all out on day one because that's really hard to keep up if you're not used to it. Giving yourself a month, you can build up to 4 nights a week. Maybe the first week you cook at home twice. Hey, that's twice more that what you usually do. That's progress. Next week, let's try for 3. And so on. This way you're taking small steps to reach your larger goal within the time frame you've set. Yay!

A few things to remember: use your tracking devices (food logs, training logs, calendars) to not only track your progress but to see what things may not be working. Revise and try again. Recognizing what's not working is just as important as what is working. Then you can plan for it. Revising your goals doesn't mean you've failed and you won't reach them. It means you are changing things up so you can reach them. Be positive and be good to yourself. That's essential for reaching your goals :)

I know this is a lot of work to go through in order to set a goal. But I think the main reason why many folks don't actually reach their goals is because they didn't take the time to make their goals specific, plan, prepare and revise when necessary. Once you've ironed out all the details, you are ready to move forward and kick some ass.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Goal Setting with a little Sweet Potato Oatmeal

It's our first post of 2015! And no better way to start off the new year with some good eats. If you've resolved to eat better in the new year, this is a great breakfast to start off your year. Remember, your resolutions and goals should be easily attainable and eating better is a very much doable with the right tools: good, whole foods, healthy recipes and friends or family to share them with. Reaching your goals all comes down to preparation and follow-through. We all have the motivation, that isn't lacking. We all WANT to do better. But very rarely do we know how to go about it successfully. That's where preparation and actually following through on that prep comes in. When it comes to healthy eating, for example, setting aside some time to plan a weekly menu with a shopping list can help you prepare healthy meals for the whole week. Think about including healthy foods you've been wanting to try or know your family enjoys and find recipes to prepare them healthfully. When you shop, only buy the items needed for your meals and snacks. That way each day you know what you'll be preparing and eating and will have less of a chance to get off course. I typically plan my week's meals on Sundays and shop on Mondays. I make crock-pot meals for our busiest days and relatively quick and easy meals for the other days. Some examples of my favorite quick and easy meals include this sweet potato, fennel and carrot soup and this nut-butter greens and potato dish made with rocking Nuttzo nut-butter. If you want to talk more about realistic goal setting and making your resolutions stick, join us for a Tweet Chat on Tuesday January 6th at 5pm Pacific, 8pm Eastern. Just use the hashtag #poweredbybits to find us and join!

One way to make sure you're eating better is start your day with a great breakfast. I love me a good breakfast (ok, I love every meal) and this one does not disappoint. It's great because you can make a big batch and have it all week, just like my quinoa breakfast cereal. This oatmeal is very filling and has just the right amount of sweetness so it's not too dense, as some oatmeals can be. And if you use gluten-free oats, this is a hearty gluten-free, vegan breakfast that's high in fiber, protein, vitamins A, C and B complex, iron, potassium, magnesium, healthy Omega-3s and so much more!

Sweet Potato Oatmeal
(this recipe, which I adapted from the Minimalist Baker, makes about 6-8 servings of 1-1.5 cups each, so enough to power your whole week)

3 cups quick oats
5 3/4 water
1 tsp salt
1 small sweet potato (big enough for 1 cup of mashed potato)
3 tbs brown sugar
2 tbs maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Bring the water and salt to a boil. Once boiling, add your oats. Reduce the heat to medium and stir to wet all the oats. Cook for about 1 minute. Turn the heat off and cover the oats. Let sit at least 3 minutes. While your oats are cooking, pierce your sweet potato several times and pop into the microwave. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, depending on your microwave. The potato should be soft when fully cooked. I'm not crazy about microwaving food, but this is a quick way to cook your potato. If you have the time, bake your potato at 400 for about 20 minutes. Once cooked, remove the skins from the potato and mash until smooth. I add a splash of almond milk to smooth out the potato. Add the mashed potato and all the remaining ingredients (except the pecans) to the oatmeal. Mix well and spoon out however many servings you need immediately. Top with about 1 tbs pecans per serving. Save the rest of the oatmeal in an airtight container in the fridge for breakfasts for the week.