Why I Strength Train

Why do I strength train? But won’t it make you bulky? Why on earth would you want to lift such heavy stuff? Aren’t you afraid you’ll hurt your back? Don’t you get bored doing the same exercises every day?

These are questions I am asked a LOT by family, friends, co-workers, and strangers on the street who find out I’ve been weight training for the last two years. I’d like to answer each one just to set the record straight. I’d also like to share that Starting Strength has changed my life. If you’ve considered or are currently interested in weight training look into this specific program. You can find a coach near you or utilize their online coaching.

Why do I strength train? I decided to join the fight against muscular atrophy. I witnessed my grandparents slowly decline over the years and with that came natural muscle atrophy which led to decreased mobility and independence. I don’t want that for myself and I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid that same fate. As we age it’s natural to lose muscle mass, but if you’re working against it and adding or maintaining muscle mass you’re going to have an easier time in the end. Just think about it, you’ll be able to get off the couch, get off the toilet, have better balance to prevent falls, and if you do fall you’l have stronger bones to prevent fractures .

But won’t it make you bulky? The irony of this question makes me laugh long and hard. Women are mainly who ask this question and they always ask it with this disgusted/worried look on their face. They’re envisioning women who are so ripped you could bounce a quarter off their behind and whose chest looks like the pecs on Arnold. These women are most likely taking some kind of steroid because *most* women just don’t form muscle like that. Women have far less testosterone floating around their bodies compared to men and therefore, unless you’re genetically predisposed (which is highly unlikely) to that look like that or you’re taking supplements you will not end up looking like a female Arnold. I laugh about it because  I’ve gone from a size 18 to a size 12 over the course of my two years or strength training (and I’m still continuing to lose inches). So yeah, I may be larger than the average woman because I have more muscle than the average woman, but I’m actually smaller now than I was 2 years ago.  Do I still have a little extra fat that I’d like to get rid of? Sure I do! But you know what will get rid of that stubborn fat? Growing bigger muscles. Muscles burn fat. Especially when you are lifting heavy and putting your muscles through the ringer. Ah, science. So, the more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn. I’m not saying it’ll be quick but over time you will lean out (assuming you’re eating to fuel those muscles).

Why on earth would you want to lift such heavy stuff? For no other reason than it makes me feel like a bad ass mother trucker. Women need to feel stronger and more empowered and I guarantee nothing makes you feel those two things more than when you’re squatting more than you weigh.

Aren’t you afraid you’ll hurt your back? I was in a car accident my senior year of high school, I was sitting at a stand still and was rear ended by a car going 55 MPH. I went through physical therapy, massage therapy, and was put on pain killers and muscle relaxers due to a lower back injury and resulting pain.  After those initial treatments I was told I’d have to see a chiropractor for essentially the rest of my life if I wanted to stay pain free. And I did see one, throughout college and even after. Nothing has helped my constant lower back pain quite like weight training. After working on my form, lifting with said proper form, and slowly increasing my back strength I now walk around with zero back pain. That’s HUGE. I amazed at my lack of back pain now compared to where I was at 8 years ago. Nothing holds your body in alignment quite like muscle. Imagine that.

Don’t you get bored doing the same exercises every day?  The short answer, NOPE. Each and every workout is a challenge because each and every workout you’re either adding weight to the bar or you’re retrying a weight that you failed at the last time. For my competitive personality this works well because it’s like a game, I’m always striving to improve. I LOVE being able to add weight to the bar, especially on the press and bench press. I’ve never been one to have a whole lot (if any) upper body strength so finally having a little is exhilarating. In fact, I’m working towards my first body weight chin up and I’m pretty darn close! The day I get one will be one of the happiest days of my life. Because that was my only goal two years ago when I started weight training: I want to be able to do a pull up.

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Find the Good and the Positive

Sometimes in life it is really easy to put a lot of focus on the bad and negative stuff. I, personally, have been stressing over money. Which is dumb because I just paid off a student loan and I’m currently not making a car payment. But I still stress about how little I make compared to when I worked in the hospital. It is much more difficult to always find a positive. One of my favorite vlogers always says, “happiness is a choice” and I couldn’t agree more. Some days you just have to force a smile on your face and find a positive thought to put your focus on.

I found this picture on my phone, it’s from about 9 months ago, and I can vividly remember taking it in the locker room at work. I was SO excited that for the first time in an extremely long time I could see my clavicles. That, most likely, sounds silly. But for someone who has been overweight since the third grade this was a big deal for me and brought me so much happiness! Choosing to be healthy isn’t always easy but it has been so worth it. On hard days I like to scroll through old pictures to help remind myself how great my life is. I choose to find happiness.

So, when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or you’re having a crappy day stop and find three things that make you happy, that you are thankful for, and/or that are positive in your life. Choose happiness over negative thoughts. Force those negative thoughts out and if you have to, force a smile on your face. Just changing your mindset can turn your entire day around and eventually you’ll find that it’s easier to choose happiness and easier to let go of the negativity.

Book Review and a Rant

Ok. I’m going to recommend a book that I believe everyone should read. Every.One.Should.Read. Because I’m bursting at the seems and want to just share what I’ve learned with everyone who will listen and even those who won’t. Everyone should know what this book has to say so that you can make an informed decision when buying your next week worth of food. I don’t typically recommend books, restaurants, clothing, shoes, or food brands unless I really and truly believe in them. Because I don’t think it’s worth your time unless its really good. This book is informative, educational, and eye-opening and I believe it’s worth every second of your time.

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The Dorito Effect, written by Mark Schatzker, talks about flavor and how it has changed our societal standards/demands for food. He speaks about how the dilution of nutrients in the food we find in super markets has left us with bland, flavorless food. This in turn has led us on a journey to find more flavor. This “flavor” that has been added to our food (since as early as the 1960’s !) is artificial and synthetic and isn’t at all “natural”. It actually causes confusion in our brains and causes us to eat more of whatever it is it has been added to. Every wondered why you just couldn’t stop eating that super market cheese cake?? Did you think it was just from a lack of will power? I certainly have. But, according to the research done and cited in this book it isn’t a lack of will power at all but the addicting behavior that these flavor additives cause.

You may be asking “but how do they know this to be true?”. Well, they’ve also added these flavorings to the feed given to the cows, chicken, pigs, and any other protein you’re buying off the shelves and they watched and researched their reactions. The “high octane” feed they were wanting their animals to eat was tasteless and didn’t appeal to the animals though. So, what did they do? They manufactured synthetic flavor compounds to add to their feed so that it appealed to their taste/pleasure centers and made them eat it without a care in the world. The discovered that with these added flavorings the animals were diving nose first into their food even if they refused to eat it sans flavoring the day before. And then, the next day, those animals were eating even more than they had the day before. So not only were they enjoying it and gladly eating it they were eating more which meant they were growing faster. Jackpot. For the farmers, this was fantastic news because they needed food that is going to make their animals grow faster, fatter, and bigger than ever before. They make larger profits on larger animals that eat cheap food and can be turned over at a faster rate (think chickens who now mature in 35 days rather than 12 weeks). So now, not only are they enjoying their once-before-flavorless food but their eating more of it which is helping them grow bigger and faster. …..sound familiar? Like…maybe an obesity epidemic currently seen in thousands of Americans today?

All of that is only a fraction of what is talked about in this book. I would highly suggest reading it for yourself. He does a much better job of explaining it all than I can and he’s got the research to stand behind. After reading this book and knowing that we’ve been given flavor additives just like the cattle in the feed lots makes me a little angry. Why would the government allow these to be added to our foods when they know that it’s going to make us eat more, gain more weight, and ultimately have a decrease in our health? That, to me, sounds like sabotage. You hear nearly everyday on the news how much we are having to pay for healthcare costs and yet these sneaky additives are being added to just about everything available in the super markets. That makes me really angry. Because I don’t like having my health toyed with. Especially when my family history includes diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. My family genetics have enough going against me, I don’t need crappy food in my life taking me down as well.

So, THAT is why I choose cleaner foods, real foods, whole foods with nothing added to it. Call it paleo, call it primal, call it what you want. You are the only person who can look out for you and YOU have to make the choice. Eat what the government tells you is fine or choose whole, real, nutrient dense foods that are going to make you feel better and look better. And you know what? Since I’ve cut out all of those foods with additives, real food has started to taste better. I can’t handle the overly sweet, overly processed foods any more. My taste buds finally reverted to what they were supposed to be tasting. If something is bland I add sea salt or herbs to amp up the flavor, not some synthetic flavoring. That “food” that’s cheap and processed and widely available isn’t actually food but rather “franken-food” that the food industry wants you to buy to keep them richer and your health poorer.

 

Budget Friendly Paleo

Have you been putting off giving paleo a try because you’ve heard it’s super expensive? I am often asked how I am able to stay paleo while also being on a budget. I’ll admit, it is not always easy but it’s definitely doable. It requires a lot of planning, a lot of list making, and quite honestly sometimes cutting out certain things so that you can put that needed money towards your grocery budget. Sit down and see what is necessary and what isn’t, what you can do without and what you can’t.

Eating real foods in this day in age is expensive. There is no getting around it. You have to consider the men and women who are farming, raising, and transporting the whole foods we eat when on a paleo style diet. I think it was probably always expensive we just have more material things to spend our money on these days compared to 100 years ago. If you think about what we pay for now (phone bill, electricity, cable, internet, cars, car insurance, gas, upkeep for the car, the list goes on and one) that could be going towards food it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Back then, people were putting a quarter or even half of their budget towards their food. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that cheaper processed foods were introduced and some of our current luxuries were brought about. Food started to become less like food and more like food like substances that severely lacked nutritional value. Money started being spent on other luxuries because not so much was needed for the cheap, processed groceries.

We, personally, spend about 1/6th of our budget on groceries for the two of us. I estimate this will go up once we start a family. I don’t actually think we’re spending that much on groceries but when I give people that number they’re baffled, “HOW are you able to do that?!”. But when you think about how much you may be spending on eating out, wasted food, or other frivolous items/habits. I’m not saying don’t have any more fun, I’m just suggesting that, if eating paleo on a budget is important to or necessary for you, you make a list of what you can get rid of and maybe make eating out more of a special occasion rather than an all-the-time kind of thing. We typically eat out once a month for a date night and I enjoy every second of it!

As far as lists go: making a list and keeping to it at the grocery store will help you not over-spend. It will also make sure you’re buying produce that you actually need and will use rather than buying it on an impulse and having it go bad in the fridge.Eating paleo means your food isn’t going to stay for weeks, it’s fresh and without additives so it’s going to spoil faster than you may be used to (like food is supposed to do). So, make a list and stick to it and then cook what you’ve planned. If you aren’t cooking all of your food at once, you’re worried about food spoiling, or you think you’ll  get bored with your meal selections, make a second list mid week and go grocery shopping twice a week. Or freeze your food and defrost later in the week!

It may seem daunting at first but give it a few weeks and you’ll be a budget making, list making, meal prepping pro!

 

Keep Calm and Consistently Carry On

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard or read the phrase, “consistency is key”. I will also tell you that I used to just roll my eyes because who has the time or the energy to consistently do anything?? Then, one day, I’m walking through the gym and this coach stops me, looks me dead in the eye, and says “consistency is key”, and just walks away. That single moment completely changed my outlook on everything. Ev-er-y-thing.

I should probably give a little back story because that may sound pretty small and insignificant to some. At the time of this happening I had been going to this gym for almost a year. This gym is one of those old school power lifting gyms with the big hulk-like men who grunt and growl while lifting insanely large weights and have been going there since the 80’s. It is so well known, in fact, that when telling an old co-worker (who was also at one time a power lifter) where I was lifting his eyes got big and mentioned something about “lifting with the big dogs”. I just shrugged my shoulders as I was completely oblivious and told him I just lifted there because my fiance lifted there. I was lifting 3-4 days a week consistently and was focusing on weight training, prowler work, and kettle bell circuits. I saw this particular coach nearly every day I was there. He trained all types of athletic looking people. He never said hello, he rarely smiled, and he was focused solely on his client. So, when he stopped me one day after my workout and said those three little words, “consistency is key”, I felt like I had made an impression. Someone had taken notice. Someone, who I did not know at all, was acknowledging that I had been putting in the work and was seeing the results. At this point my body composition had changed pretty significantly. I had lost a little weight, gained some muscle, and was walking a little taller. My confidence was higher, my posture had improved, I could look people in the eye when passing, and I wasn’t afraid to say hello to people. When he stopped me, I realized that I had, in a way, earned my spot in that gym. That someone had taken notice that I had been showing up and hadn’t quit. I had put in the work and proven that I could do it.

I’ve come to learn though, that consistency is key in so many more aspects in life than just the work you’re putting in at the gym. You must be consistent in your food choices, sleep habits, mental habits, and everything in between if you want to see any kind of improvement. I used to indulge in a weekly “treat meal” until I realized that maybe that one meal really was hindering my progress. It wasn’t until I had to completely cut out gluten that I realized maybe I could do without that one weekly treat meal and instead have it once a month. Or, maybe indulging in a steak and baked potato night-in was just as awesome as going out for tacos or ice cream. …Who am I kidding? Nothing beats ice cream. But my point is, by consistently choosing better options I started seeing a bigger change in my energy levels, weight loss goals, and even my happiness.

I then started applying this “consistency is key” to my sleep habits. I am not a happy camper if I’m not in bed and asleep by 9 (earlier if I can get away with it). When you wake up at 5 am it’s just necessary. Sleep is such a critical component to your health, it is not something that should be missed or abused (I know this is going to bite me in the ass in the next couple of years when we have kids….but do the best you can!). I’ve noticed a significant change in my mood and energy levels since making sleep a priority.  And because I’ve been able to stay on track and be so consistent with my sleep and diet habits my mental health has also improved. I’m happier, more energetic, my stress levels are lower, I find it easier to brush off the annoyances and find the positives, and my overall outlook has become more positive and less negative. For the first time in a really long time I feel like things are falling into place and I truly believe it is attributed to the work and effort that I’ve consistently put into so many aspects of my life.

You may not see the effects in the first week or even month but give it some time and be patient and I guarantee you’ll see a massive difference. “Consistency is key” has become my personal motto. It sounds super cliche but it has become something that I tell myself everyday. Life isn’t a sprint, it is a marathon. And when you focus on the long-term it makes those day-to-day choices a little easier. I’m not saying don’t have any fun. Just have your fun and get back to your routine. Your future self will thank you, I promise!

Meal Prep: The Secret Sauce to Paleo

When I tell people I eat paleo (after the general eye roll) they usually ask how many hours a day I spend cooking. It is true, I cook a lot more eating the way I do, but if you’re smart about it, it isn’t so bad. Have you ever heard the phrase “fail to prepare or prepare to fail”? Well, it had never applied more to my life than when I began eating whole, real foods. Foods that you had to cook rather than place in the microwave for two minutes.

I love to cook, I always have. But when you’re busy with work, busy with workouts, and just busy with life in general who wants to come home (exhausted) and have to find something to make? No one, that’s who. Especially not me. And if I don’t have a plan I will always find the easiest option which is rarely healthy and definitely not cheap. This is why I meal prep. It saves money and it saves time (in the long run!).

I try to do all of my cooking for the week on Sunday and Thursday.  I do the mass majority of the cooking and prep on Sunday. It literally takes me half the day but this amount of time could be decreased if you use crock pots or pressure cookers. I try to sit down and plan what I will make each week on Friday or Saturday and once I have that list I go through the ingredients and make a grocery list. Once I have gone grocery shopping I prep as much as possible on Sunday: cook the proteins, chop up veggies, roast veggies, and pre-pack meals for easy grab and go lunches. If I’m really proactive I can knock out meals for the entire week on Sunday alone, and man do I love when that happens! Sometimes, though, I will supplement on Thursdays to get us through the weekend.

The biggest issue people have with meal prepping is variety, they get bored easily. I know it’s nice to eat something different every meal and I’m sure not everyone loves leftovers, but sometimes you have to just suck it up and deal with it. Sorry, that was a little tough love. I know I used to not like eating something more than twice so I finally had to have a come to Jesus meetin’ with myself and kindly tell me to “just put on your big girl panties and get over it!”. Food is fuel, not your friend. Write that down. FOOD IS FUEL, NOT YOUR FRIEND. So, don’t get all sentimental about it, just eat the dang food and realize it is doing your body good! It also helps to be really, really hungry. I find that if I don’t snack and stick to three solid meals a day I tend to not care what I’m eating because I’m just that hungry.

This example of a work lunch is one of my all time faaaaave meal preps. It comes together in maybe 30 minutes? If that? Here is what I do: salt a roast (pork or beef: chuck, shoulder, arm roast, whatever you have) and place it in the crockpot with 1 cup of broth and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Once that is in, bake your sweet potatoes at 425 for about an hour or until fork tender. While those are baking throw together some pico de gallo and guacamole. For the pico I use chopped tomato, onion (my fave is purple), minced jalapeno, tons of cilantro, and salt. For the guacamole I mash an avocado and add onion (purple again), salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, and lime juice (start with half a lime and taste if it could use more). Once you have all of that made you know have yourself all that’s need to assemble this bad boy!

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Keep it simple but always make it delicious, that’s my motto!

Been a Long Time Gone

I’ve been listening to a lot of Dixie Chicks lately so you’ll have to excuse me. I have been gone for quite some time though and I’m hoping that maybe 2017 will be the year I stop neglecting this little baby blog. A lot has changed in the almost year that I’ve been away. My grandfather’s passing really took the wind out of me and I still find myself struggling some days. I was so close to him that I don’t know if that hole in my heart will ever actually close.

Enough sad talk. Some happier items! In 106 days I will get to marry my best friend. Joseph has helped me through the roughest time in my life (among many other minor crises) and he deals with my daily dose of crazy. I love him more than I knew possible.

I started a new job! I am now working as a school nurse. A ton of thought went into this. I secretly loved the rush of working in a cardiac procedural area but it didn’t love me back. The long hours, constant stress, and overwhelming demand of the job just took its toll and I couldn’t see myself staying in that environment long-term. I knew that for my health and sanity I needed to make a change. So, while my days are now spent dealing with much more crying and poo, I’m quite honestly as happy as I’ve been in a long time. My hours are consistent, I get holidays off, I’m sleeping a solid eight hours a night, and I get an entire summer off!

I got serious about my weight training! I’ve gotten significantly stronger over the last six months and I’m excited to see where I continue to go from here. I’m currently doing Starting Strength programming. I’m even entered to compete in the Starting Strength spring competition in April!

I am currently on and rocking a Whole30! It is the first time that I have ever made it to day 19 of any challenge. I truly feel like it’s because the rest of my life has finally aligned. I’ve mad choices that are benefiting my help and happiness. There has been change but change is good, change means there is some kind of growth happening.

On that note, I’m excited to see what 2017 has to offer! I feel like this year has quite a lot of potential.