Archive for the ‘Heart Health’ Category

“Unbreak Your Heart”

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Heart

 

 

 

 

 

On any given day of the week diet and nutrition are HOT topics, but you know something really controversial, life-changing or ground-breaking is afoot when one or the other makes the front page of the Sunday Chicago Tribune.

A recent issue featured the perfect example; an article advocating for the heart healthy benefits of a vegan diet.

Right in that front page space – albeit below the fold – the article highlighted enthusiastic support, as well as references to research data on vegan and vegetarian diets from Dr. Kim Williams, a Chicago cardiologist. Dr. Williams not only recommends plant-based diets to his patients, he actually eats a vegan diet, an eating plan long considered somewhat fringe, even a bit extreme.

It made my heart jump for joy.

Dr. Williams made the switch to a plant-based diet after a nuclear scan on a patient with severe heart disease showed startling improvement after the patient followed a vegan diet for 6 months. While surprised, the doctor was also intrigued, and after reviewing a number of published studies documenting similar outcomes decided to try it himself. Turns out that despite his deliberate effort to eat a “heart healthy” diet, his own LDL cholesterol (the “bad” one) had been creeping up.

A number of things from this article stood out for me, the least of which was the fact that an actual MEDICAL DOCTOR stood as such a strong advocate for a plant-based diet. Not just any medical doctor/cardiologist mind you, Dr. Williams is a nuclear cardiologist http://www.asnc.org/content_11495.cfm?navID=481, chief of cardiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and the incoming president of the American College of Cardiology.

Having someone in Dr. Williams’ position support the heart healthy benefits of eating more plants and less meat – the opposite of what reams of research suggest contributes to heart disease – is like the president of ComEd suggesting we all work to get off the grid.

There are many healthy reasons to eat a diet based on plants, with vegetarian and vegan diets alike conferring benefits for those interested in using dietary changes to improve obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

And for those who continue to hold the belief that “meatless” diets can’t possibly provide adequate protein (that age-old and frankly, tired argument), consider The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper on vegetarian diets which states that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

The key is “appropriately planned”; eschewing meat without adding solid plant-based protein sources, nor including plenty of fruits and veggies is never a healthy, balanced approach. See the example below illustrating this concept.

I encourage you to give plant-based eating a try – even adding a “Meatless Monday” http://www.meatlessmonday.com/ to your week helps. If it’s good enough for a top cardiologist, perhaps you can make room on your plate for more plants!

Low-Nutrition Meatless Meal

Breakfast: Bagel with Nutella | Apple juice

Lunch: Slice of cheese pizza | Diet soda

Dinner: Bean burrito | Iced tea

High-Nutrition Meatless Meal

Breakfast: Whole-wheat bagel with nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.) | Fresh apple

Lunch: Slice of vegetable pizza (vegan option, no cheese) | Side salad with garbanzo beans | Water – OR – small fruit smoothie

Dinner: Bean and vegetable burrito | Guacamole | Unsweetened iced black or green tea – OR – water.

1. http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-met-vegan-cardiologist-20140817-story.html#page=1

 

 

Feed Me Friday!

Friday, November 8th, 2013

I am a huge fan of cooking on the weekend for the week ahead. It saves time, money, energy and YOUR SANITY!

That said, I know how easy it can be to get into a cooking rut, making the same dish over and over and over; many of my clients struggle with this. Because my mission is to provide nutrition solutions to my client’s nutrition dilemmas, I thought a “Feed Me Friday” theme, featuring a new plant-based recipe each week could help.

I don’t have an actual pic of my dish, simply didn’t get it done, so I’m using “other” photos. I’ll be better in future – promise!

The photo below is one I took while dining at a Persian restaurant in San Diego. My dish is similar in appearance, so this gives you an idea of the finished product.

Here’s my inaugural post, I hope you enjoy the delicious results.

Curry-Kissed Lentil Millet Soup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 tablespoon curry powder

3 tablespoons black mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 can pumpkin (not pie filling)

1 can tomato paste

8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

3/4 cup green lentils

1/3 cup millet

1. In a large stock pot, saute onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons water until soft (add more water as needed to prevent sticking).

2. Add turmeric, curry powder, black mustard seeds and kosher salt, mix well with the onion and garlic. Cover the pot; the mustard seeds will begin to pop and jump and you don’t want them to escape. When the popping stops, remove the cover and stir the spices again, adding a bit of water as needed to prevent sticking. Cook the spices and vegetables ~ 5 minutes.

3. Stir pumpkin and tomato paste into the spice/veggie mixture, blend well and cook for 5 minutes.

4. Add broth, lentils and millet, stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down so the soup simmers gently. Partially cover the  pot and let cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally until lentils are soft.

NutriTIPS

* Add more water if you like “soupier” soup.

* Find millet in grocery stores sporting a bulk section that includes a variety of grains, dried beans, etc. Whole Foods, of course, but also check co-ops and other nutrition-forward locations. If you can’t find (or don’t want to search for) millet, don’t let it stop you from making this soup; it’s delicious even without it. However, this small yellow grain is a good source of fiber and protein, vitamins and minerals. It also contains the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, beneficial in promoting eye health. Learn about millet.

millet-raw

Raw Millet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* This particular collection of spices is common in Indian cooking. As a whole, this combination adds a rich, satisfying layer of flavor; individually these spices contribute important vitamins, minerals and strong antioxidant properties.  About this link: I haven’t used this particular company to purchase spices, but the founder is a fellow Chicagoan (solidarity!). I ran across her work one day and was smitten, partially because I love Indian food, but also because I found her story fascinating! Indian Spice Selection.

Indian Spice Collection

Indian Spice Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Well Dishes

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Early in 2013, my father-in-law was diagnosed with bladder cancer. If that wasn’t startling enough, tests to determine whether the cancer had spread revealed lung cancer; different from the bladder cancer. Which turned out to be a good thing, in the hierarchy of cancer goodness that is.

Needless to say, it’s been a long, bumpy ride. As we head into fall, I’m visiting my in-laws to help as best I can with recovery from a radical surgery (fingers crossed, the final major medical hurdle in his journey back to health), one that hopefully has kicked this unwelcome visitor to the curb.

We’ve got a recovery team in place, with each of us playing to our strength. As the dietitian/nutritionist/chef/personal trainer, I’m in charge of meals and walks. I confess, the opportunity to cook up nutrient-rich, plant-powered and delicious meals each day has me giddy.

A long-time follower of a vegetarian/vegan diet (with fish rotating through on occasion), I’m a huge advocate of plant-based meals for preventing and managing disease. Not that my cooking will be the ultimate cure, but it certainly can’t hurt. For the last 90 days or so, I’ve been experimenting with a 100% vegan diet, so I’ve packed those principles along for this trip.

Several days into my stay, we’re raving about the taste and the EFFECT of my cooking. My father-in-law is gaining strength daily, experiencing a perkier appetite, has color returning to his cheeks, and a small but perceptable pep to his step on our daily stroll. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not running a marathon any time soon – but by his own account and what we’re observing, he’ll be tough to hold back!

John Enchilada

I’m featuring one of my “get well dishes” here; vegan enchiladas. I made a huge batch, which with leftovers makes it easy to simply reheat and eat (they’re just as delicious the next day)!

EnchiladasVeggie Enchiladas

1 medium red onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 red bell peppers, diced

1, 6 ounce bag organic baby spinach

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced

8 ounces extra-firm, water-packed tofu, drained and crumbled (I used sprouted tofu)

2 cups cooked pinto beans (I cooked my own, but you can use 1, 16 oz. can, rinsed and drained)

1 cup cooked quinoa

12 whole wheat tortillas

2, 12 ounce jars low-sodium salsa

1. In a large skillet, saute onion and garlic in 3 tablespoons water (add more water to prevent sticking/burning). Cook and stir 10 minutes, or until onion is soft.

2. While onion is cooking, place the sweet potato and 3 tablespoons water into a glass bowl; microwave 8-10 minutes, or until soft. Mash with a fork or potato masher, set aside.

3. Add bell peppers to the pan, stir and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the sweet potato, mix well. Tear the baby spinach leaves in two, toss them into the pan with the other vegetables. Stir and cook until spinach is wilted. Remove the cooked vegetables from the heat.

4. In a large bowl, mash the tofu and beans together (it’s ok to leave some of the beans whole). Stir in the quinoa.

5. Combine the vegetables with the bean/tofu/quinoa mixture; mix well.

6. In a 9 x 13 glass baking dish (larger if you have one), spread enough salsa to cover the bottom of the dish (save some for topping). Place ~ 1/4 cup filling on the long side of a tortilla, then roll tortilla around filling and place in the pan (I used an additional smaller dish, 12 enchiladas won’t fit into a 9 x 12 pan).

7. Spread remaining salsa over top of filled tortillas. Cover pans tightly with foil, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes.

8. Serve topped with chopped green onions, fresh cilantro, and sliced avocado, or if you’re feeling ambitious, the following avocado “cream”.

Avocado Cream

In a food processor combine 2 large avocados, 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 cup packed fresh cilantro, 1/8 cup water. Blend until creamy, adding additional water as needed to thin into a pourable consistency (from “Oh She Glows” food blog).

Enchilada Avocado Cream

 

Eating Well While Eating Out. . .A Chicago Loop “Gem”

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

I love Chicago. Although I moved here years ago, rarely do I pass up an opportunity to spend time simply reveling in the energy and urban vibe of the city. My passion for the city is one of the reasons I established a Chicago office; it’s a perfectly fine justification for escaping the ‘burbs and heading back to my beloved city streets.

Also, need I mention, the dining options in the city are (duh) just so darn more plentiful, varied and inventive! With one of my professional mantras being “Eat In”, you can probably imagine that I’m a bit particular when I choose to “Eat Out”.

This past weekend brought family in from out of town. Another fine excuse, er, justification for ambling the city streets; SOMEONE has to play tour guide. As I hurried to the weekend visitor hotel headquarters, I inadvertently found myself in front of Native Foods Café, a dining establishment mentioned to me months ago by one of my clients (you know who you are, and I sincerely thank you), yet mysteriously missing from my memory. Somehow, I’d completely forgotten her recommendation.

20130822_155206[1]I tugged my husband toward the menu posted in the window, excitedly explaining how I’d learned of this place. Scanning the menu, our taste buds began whispering “when, for the love of God, is lunch?” Fortunately, we’d arrived at the right time (the fam, wholly uninterested in “weird food” was lunching around the corner at a ubiquitous chain, which shall remain anonymous). Unfortunately (for us), Native Foods was hopping, and we were on a be-there-in-time-for-the-first-pitch Cubs/Cards time schedule. Sadly, we had to skip it. Vehemently, we vowed to return.

Native Foods Café is a vegan restaurant, and the loop location I’d stumbled upon is one of three in Chicago. 20130818_153409[1]What makes this especially astonishing to me is that years ago, when I began eating a vegetarian diet, finding a restaurant like this in the meat and potatoes Midwest was similar to moving heaven and earth – essentially impossible. I am giddy about the many vegan/vegetarian/plant-based restaurants popping up in and around Chicago. It makes “Eating Well While Eating Out” so much easier.

As it turns out, I returned to Native Foods Café at the close of the whirlwind weekend, albeit sans husband (long story). But I took plenty of food pics, shared my (very positive) experience with him, and promised we’d go back to try other options, together. On a closing note, I must mention that not everything on the menu is uber-healthy. Native Foods serves fries, battered “chicken” (a combo of soy, wheat and pea protein), island jack fritters (code for FRIED), and plenty of desserts. Remember, vegan or not, calories are still calories!

"Saigon Roll"

“Saigon Roll”

"Bangkok Curry Bowl"

“Bangkok Curry Bowl”

Cooking My Way Through “Forks Over Knives” – Better Late Than Never

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Though “The How-To Companion” to the feature documentary “Forks Over Knives” has been out for a couple of years, I’ve only recently picked up a copy. The reasons for only now getting to this small but mighty book are many, but primarily, I didn’t know it existed.

Yum Yum!

Yum Yum!

I did, however, know about the documentary, and this past weekend I actually viewed it. What can I say? It’s a “must-see”, even if like me you’re a little late to the party. As a nutrition professional, my radar is always up for the latest on the health and nutrition frontlines, but it can be a struggle to keep up with it all. I mean, even though I LOVE my field, there are times I want to simply absorb a great foreign film and give my professional brain a (temporary) break.

That said, I highly recommend both the documentary and the book (you can check out both from your local library to sample, then purchase your own copy). The great thing about the book is that parts 1 and 2 illustrate the connection between a plant-based diet and health (in a reader-friendly way), and highlight some of the folks featured/profiled/starring in the film, while part 3 is all about the recipes. The bonus? Part 3 is bigger than parts 1 and 2 combined! Why is that so exciting? Because the recipes offer so much in the way of variety that I can’t imagine my taste buds ever getting bored. Oh, and every, single recipe that I’ve prepared has been surprisingly DELICIOUS.

It’s not that the actual deliciousness of plant-based recipes surprises me. On the contrary. I’m a longtime vegetarian/vegan constantly on the prowl for new plant-based recipes and ideas. The surprise comes from discovering such a strong consistency of deliciousness. Sometimes cookbooks have a handful of stellar recipes while the remainder merely fill pages. I’m five recipes into this cookbook and haven’t found that to be the case – so for me, it’s a winner.

I’m including a soup recipe here, along with the changes I made. Unfortunately there’s no photo – we ate it before I snapped a pic! Even though summer is in full swing here in the Chicago area, my husband and I love soup. Any time of year, really. It’s easy to tote to work, quick to re-heat for lunch, and is typically a meal-in-one-bowl. Love soup’s simplicity and utter satisfaction, especially this one.

 Yellow Split Pea and Leek Soup

2 cups yellow split peas

6 cups water

2 carrots, cut into small dice (I had no carrots, so I used a large sweet potato, peeled and diced)

1 red onion, cut into small dice

3 leeks, white and light green parts, cut into small dice

4 celery stalks, cut into small dice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari

1. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add the peas. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the peas are soft (start checking them 45 minutes into the cooking time; it will vary).

2. When the peas are soft, add the carrots, onion, leeks and celery. Cook for 20-30 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add salt and tamari, stir to blend well.

** I used an immersion blender to produce a smooth, creamy textured soup. I also added a cube of vegetarian bouillon (can’t remember the brand) along with the vegetables. Although I used water as the base, a good vegetable stock would also work nicely.

 

 

 

Inner Strength – Find It. Keep It.

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

20130713_075248[1]Recently, just a little over a mile into my Morton Arboretum East side running route, I spied this bench. I’ve run this stretch of the Arboretum many times, so I couldn’t believe I’d never before seen this amazing piece of functional art.

Perhaps because the location of the bench coincides with the “just getting warmed up” portion of my run, it was easy to overlook. During a warm up, I’m typically not focused on the scenery, rather, I’m simply working to find my running rhythm for the day. Regardless, I had to stop, wander over and snap a photo. I love the way this shot turned out.

I felt like the message was speaking to me, and I imagine I’m not the only one. You see, when you challenge yourself to do something, well, challenging – like running long distances, facing a food fear, or taking the first steps to changing your behavior to lead a healthier life – there are days when you feel you need super-human strength. And when you DO have one of those days, how do you find and hold on to that strength?

For me, it helps to think about the payback I’ll get for tackling a challenge. If I’m running, I think about how I’ll feel when I’m finished; accomplished, proud, strong, happy to be done! If it’s a work challenge, I think about how the outcome will move my business forward, help me become a better dietitian/nutritionist and personal trainer, or provide me with a skill to help my clients even more.

So what’s your payback for tackling a challenge? Or, let’s back up a bit to first identify the challenge. Once you’re done that, what helps you tap into your inner strength to attack that challenge head on? Then, what helps you hold onto it – on those most challenging of days?

 

 

 

 

Countdown To Half Marathon – RECAP – Christie Clinic Half Marathon, Champaign, IL

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

This blog update is something like 6 weeks overdue – but I’ve finally written it! I feel like I can’t continue with new posts until I add this, so here goes.

I ran the race with my brother – so meeting up with him and his grandson (he’s old enough for that; I, on the other hand, am definitely NOT) at our hotel was great fun. And rather than fight the crowds and risk dining on food that left us wanting something delicious and fulfilling, I suggested we bring food and prep it in our hotel rooms. Mind you, we’ve stayed at this hotel before and it’s a laid back spot, complete with microwave and fridge. Simple to pack up a cooler and bring along our own delish/nutrish food. And that’s just what we did! Here I am, ready to heat up my pre-cooked whole wheat pasta. Simple and spectacular.

Hotel Room Gourmet

Hotel Room Gourmet

I realize this suggestion wouldn’t always be an option, but under these circumstances, it worked brilliantly! And because I do so many healthy cooking demonstrations at corporations all over the Chicago area, I’ve got this down to a science.

After a good night’s sleep, we were up and prepping for the big day. The weather was beyond cooperative – sunny and (eventually) warm, no rain or wind – perfect running conditions. I took it as my gift for slogging through all of the horrible winter weather training sessions. Thank you.

Start Line

Start Line

At the start line, complete with my warmer sleeves (best running-with-comfort invention, ever), I was ready to go (that’s my bro just in front of me). I always start slow, conserving my fuel and energy rather than burning through it up front – so after I hit somewhere around the first mile and a half, I fell in with a pacer group running a 10:07 pace. Initially I thought, “There’s no way this is 10:07, it’s too slow”, but somewhere around mile 8 I changed my mind; definitely a 10:07 mile pace. It was challenging to maintain that pace for an extended distance, because I don’t train that way. But it was a challenge I relished; I loved experiencing how my months of training paid me back, it was oh so gratifying.

I’m eternally grateful to Michelle (her name was scrawled on her bib) the pacer. I don’t know her, but I kept her in sight and my body within a few stride lengths. I held that pace until mile 11 when I broke from the pace pack and ran out ahead to finish in 2:11:40. I felt good throughout the run, and finished strong. All my training, good nutrition, and hard work paid off!

Now I’m on the hunt for a September half, and I’m already doing a few summer runs (have a 15k this weekend). Until then, I’ll keep you posted on my running adventures – and please share yours with me; I’d love to hear how good nutrition and consistent training help you meet your fitness goals.

Happy summer, happy running, everyone!

Victory!

Victory!

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 2

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Tomorrow is the long-awaited, big, big day. I feel ready, I feel strong. I’m excited to be here. I’m honored to be here.

I know I’ll shed a few tears at the start line – especially when they play the national anthem. I’m assuming there will be a nod to Boston – no doubt tears will fall then. I got teary at the packet pickup when I purchased my Boston sticker – I’ll wear it proudly on my bib.

I can’t help but think how only two short weeks ago, thousands of runners felt the same excitement and anticipation, never once considering what was in store.

I’m running for me, for all those who can’t, and I’m running for Boston.

Bring it.

Boston Sticker

Boston Sticker

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 3

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

48 hours from now, I will have completed my half marathon. I can’t believe it’s so close!

Essentially, I’m finished training – completely. At this point, there’s nothing else physically that I can do to get stronger, faster, or fitter. I follow a religious foot, Achilles, and calf stretching and strengthening routine that I’ll do tonight and tomorrow; can’t really ever overdo that, and it’s helpful, even in this final hour.

Today I walked 1/2 mile to warm up, then ran an easy two miles. By easy, I’m referring to intensity. I followed that up with a yoga class – it felt really good to fit in some extended total-body stretching. The instructor’s emphasis for today’s class was on stretching and opening the sides of the body; loved it! Yoga is a wonderful antidote to running and strength training, and I try to fit it in as often as I can – unfortunately, I’ve been neglecting it because my training has taken precedence. It’s ironic that we offer Vinyasa yoga for beginners here at the NutriFit studio http://www.eatwellgetstrong.com/yoga.html, but since I’m working when class is in session, I never get to reap the benefits. Too bad. . .it’s an awesome class!

A couple of days ago I was kicking around the idea of bringing food along so that once we check into our hotel we’re not held captive by over-priced, underwhelming restaurant food. It’s rare that food bothers my digestive system, but now would be a ridiculously horrible time for it to be one of those rare times. . .bringing my own food just makes more sense, especially since we’re driving. My brother likes the idea as well, so that sealed the deal and I decided to go for it.

In advance, I’ll cook up a big pot of whole wheat pasta (extremely difficult to find at a restaurant), saute’ veggies and vegan meatballs for me, and bring shrimp or chicken for my brother, nephew and husband. I’ll toss a huge salad of spinach, mushrooms, and strawberries, mix up my special olive oil-based dressing, and bring fruit and dark chocolate for dessert. When it’s time to eat, I’ll simply plug in the wok, heat the pasta and toppings, and serve up the rest. Cheap, delicious, nutritious, and smart. Well, except for the dish washing; bathtub? Nah. . .just kidding.

I’ll take pics and let you know how it works out in my post-run follow-up blog.

For now, here’s the recipe for the salad dressing – it’s divine!

VERSATILE VINAIGRETTE

1 tablespoon orange juice

2 tablespoons vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 small garlic clove, smashed

½ teaspoon ground, black pepper

In a small glass jar, combine orange juice, vinegar, olive oil, mustard, garlic and black pepper. Put the lid on the jar; shake contents vigorously until thoroughly mixed.

This salad is actually tossed with this dressing. Yum!

This salad is actually tossed with this dressing. Yum!

 

 

 

 

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 5

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Taper week continues.

Today I ran the shortest distance that I have run in months – a mere 3 miles. I’m not saying “a mere 3 miles” to downplay how challenging running 3 miles truly is. . .it’s just that when you’ve been logging anywhere from 5 – 13 miles per run for the last few months, it truly becomes “a mere 3 miles.”

Tapering requires a huge amount of mental discipline and toughness; just like the actual training. I wrote a bit about this yesterday, when I lamented just how difficult it is to scale back on my workouts. Think about it. If someone has been religiously training their body to get stronger, pushing themselves a little bit further each week in order to tackle an endurance fitness event of any sort, once they get to that deadline, they’re going to be fit – really fit. Cardiovascularly fit. Muscularly fit. Mentally fit. They’ve been training themselves to GO, and to pull back in the final hours is just so counterintuitive.

But it’s smart.

So today, because I finished my workout earlier than I normally do, I was talking with one of the guys at the gym. He asked me about my Friday night meal, like what it may be. And I’ve actually been thinking about this. Restaurants, depending on what area of the country you’re in, can be completely hit or miss. Last year, at this same race, we unequivocally dined at a miss. Call me crazy, but I’m considering packing my electric wok, a cooler full of prepped ingredients, and cooking up dinner in the hotel room. Why not? I do healthy cooking demonstrations in all sorts of places – corporate conference rooms, exhibit halls, and hotel ballrooms to name a few. Why not a hotel room?

I’ll have to give it some more thought, but I can honestly say it’s one way to insure our pre-race meal is balanced, healthy, adequate, and perhaps most importantly, delicious. What do you think? Am I crazy?

 

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 6

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

It’s been only 1 week since the Boston Marathon bombing, and it has been for me, as it has for countless others, a week of tremendous emotion.

When I ran my last long run on Saturday, it was such a beautiful day, and a beautiful run, but Boston loomed. As I head into the final week before my race, the pall of last Monday is woven through the excitement I feel. What to do? What every other runner in America (and beyond) is doing; run strong for Boston. In fact, this evening there are two informal runs taking place; one in Chicago and one in Deerfield that are doing just that. Wish I could participate, but work calls, so I’ll be there in spirit.

Now, a quick recap of today. Just when I thought that running through wind, rain, and snow, up seemingly never-ending hills, and putting in the long training mileage even when my body wasn’t cooperating was as hard as it would get. . .I hit taper week.

OMG! Let me be very clear. When I work out, I work out. I don’t get myself to the gym at the ridiculous hour that I do to socialize or do a few spins on the stationary bike. I’m focused, I sweat, I squeeze out every ounce of determination I’ve got, whether it’s lifting weights, doing cardio, yoga or core.

And this week? I can’t. Well, of course I can – but I’m cutting back in order to save energy and strength for the run. And it’s so hard!

Monday’s are my strength training days, and when I lift, I lift heavy (for me). Lots of women don’t lift beyond 10 pounds, give or take a couple pounds on either side of that number. It reminds me of the joke, “You should always lift weights that are heavier than your purse.” Well, plenty don’t. But I do (and so should you). You may think that lifting weights won’t impact running energy, but think about it, every extra ounce of energy your body spends repairing and getting stronger (which is essentially what happens when you lift weights) takes away from energy stores you need to run strong. If lifting weights during training impacts your running by making you stronger, why would it not have an impact now? So I had to ease back. Wicked hard.

But backing off on running? Now that I’m looking forward to. It’s a huge psychological boost to realize I only need to run 3 miles tomorrow and 2 on Thursday. Piece of cake!

So this week requires a different type of determination; scaling back, after I’ve spent 4 months pushing. And by the way, after tossing my purse on the scale in my office (hey, I’m a dietitian/nutritionist), it weighs just under 5 pounds.

My 4.75 lb. purse.

My 4.75 lb. purse.

 

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 7

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Yesterday was the last long run I’ll do before the big event – now a mere 7 days away. My plan was to run 10 – 12 miles, depending on how I felt. In the end, I ran 13.18. And I felt great.

Several things contributed to such a strong run.

In no particular order:

1. The weather. While it was still cold enough that I ran in 5 layers up top, two on the bottom, my ever-present red hat, and mittens (which I eventually took off), it was DRY. A week ago it was raining/snowing, gray, windy, and raw. Since those aren’t the best conditions for muscles to feel really good, for me anyway, my body never completely loosened up. It was SUNNY. Hallelujah. No need to say anything else about that. It was only occasionally WINDY. It really is more difficult to run in the wind; 20 mph headwinds can cost 20% of your energy.

2. New playlist. To run with or without music is an individual choice, but for me it’s a no-brainer. I run better with music – preferably something with a strong bass line, something in the “funk, R & B, blues” genre. I finally created a new compilation of music that contains these sort of tunes and more, and it was like putting rockets in my shoes. In fact, there are studies showing the positive impact of music on performance, and this study in particular suggests how syncing music tempo with pace will either slow you down or speed you up. But if you’re a run-with-music type, you don’t need a study to tell you that!  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22828457

3. Well-fed, well-rested. Again, a no-brainer. Eating well and getting plenty of sleep is pretty consistent for me. I’m never at my best without adequate sleep, so I make sure that I get it. And crappy food? Even when I’m not training for a race, it doesn’t feel good to eat bad food (by bad I mean heavily processed, artificial, poor quality), so I just don’t do it. Oh, and this is a good time to skip the alcohol; save it for later!

So the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, in this case anyway. All of these things combined make for a strong practice run and/or a strong race, but because only #2 and #3 are in your control (don’t stress about the weather, just prepare for it) put your focus and energy there.

Did someone mention quality fuel? Here’s a recipe for a post-workout smoothie full of antioxidants, protein, and carbs. Enjoy!

 Blueberry-Spinach Smoothie

1 1/2 cups coconut water

1/2 cup non-fat, Greek-style plain yogurt

1 cup packed fresh spinach

2/3 cup blueberries (frozen is fine)

1 Tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Place all ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth.

Blueberry-Spinach Smoothie

Blueberry-Spinach Smoothie

 

 

 

 

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 9

Friday, April 19th, 2013

As a running dietitian (or a dietitian who runs), of course I can’t overlook the nutritional component of training. I wrote about nutrition here http://eatwellgetstrong.com/blog/?p=677, and included a recipe for the most amazing waffles. I hope you’ve had an opportunity to try them – did I mention they’re amazing?

At this point in a half marathon training program (7-10 days out from the actual race day), tapering begins. Tapering is a fancy way of saying “Cut back on your training.” It may sound counterintuitive, but cutting back on the mileage and number of training days you’ve been doing allows the body to rebuild muscle and energy reserves – two things definitely needed on race day.

From a nutrition perspective, it makes sense to eat well THROUGHOUT your training, but especially in the last 1-2 weeks, loading up on high quality food is a good strategy, and it certainly won’t hurt!

Focus on lots of fresh fruits and vegetables for antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Lean protein, both plant-based (beans, soy, nuts) and healthy animal choices (eggs, lean red meat, fish, chicken and turkey) provides amino acids and iron. Grains (preferably whole wheat) contribute critical carbohydrate, B vitamins and iron. Healthy fats like those found in olive and canola oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish keep you full, help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and may help reduce inflammation. And don’t forget sources of calcium, from both plants AND animals; soy or cow’s milk, cheese, broccoli, yogurt, navy beans and almonds are just a handful of options.

It’s not a good idea to try a new food or drink the day before or day of your race – you don’t know how your body will react, and this is definitely not the time to find out!

In an effort to help you load up on quality, nutritious food, I’m sharing a delicious tempeh dish that I prepared last night. If you’re not familiar with tempeh (a fermented soybean cake that tastes so much better than it sounds), here’s a light-hearted overview (and a recipe that looks delicious); http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-kanner/meatless-monday-the-joy-t_b_673162.html. And if you just can’t summon the wherewithal to try tempeh, simply substitute chicken, shrimp or lean beef.

My made-up recipe:

Sautéed Tempeh and Veggies With Quinoa and Peanut Sauce

1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon canola or olive oil

2 packages tempeh, diced

1/2, 10 oz. bag fresh baby spinach

1/2 lb. button mushrooms, sliced

1 bunch green onions, sliced

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 cup water

1. In a large skillet (I like to use cast iron) over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the tempeh and let cook until it begins to brown on one side. Toss it about to brown on a couple of sides (to brown all sides of each piece you’d be at this step forever – do the best you can). The tempeh will quickly absorb the oil; to prevent it from sticking and to add another layer of flavor, stir the soy sauce into the water and add to the skillet.

2. Let the tempeh cook, stirring every now and again, until it absorbs all of the soy sauce & water mixture.

3. Once the tempeh has absorbed the liquid, transfer it to a bowl and set aside. Add 1 teaspoon additional oil, and sauté the green onion for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to brown. Add the baby spinach (no need to chop, just add the whole leaves) and sauté the whole thing together for just a minute or two, or until the spinach begins to wilt. Don’t overcook or the spinach will be soggy.

4. Serve the veggies and tempeh over cooked, hot quinoa, rice, or a mixture of both. (Why this strategy? We had leftover rice in the fridge, but not quite enough, so I started a pan of quinoa while the tempeh was cooking. We combined the quinoa and rice – nice way to add different texture.) Don’t know quinoa? Try this: http://www.cookinglight.com/food/recipe-finder/cooking-with-quinoa-00412000073996/

5. And finally, we had peanut sauce left over from a tofu dish we’d prepared a couple of evenings prior http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2013/03/peanut-sauce. Since tempeh and peanut sauce are simply made for each other, I drizzled it over everything – heaven! My two cents, cut back a little on the amount of ginger called for; although I love it, I felt it was a bit overwhelming.

Tempeh

Tempeh

Baby Spinach

Baby Spinach

Fresh Mushrooms

Fresh Mushrooms

Countdown To 1/2 Marathon – Day 10

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

So excited – got my bib number today. That’s the number I’ll wear during the run, and what I need in order to pick up my race packet at the expo. It’s an IDENTIFIER. . .4 numbers that determine my runner identity (for 13 miles).

At this point, all the training is pretty much wrapped up – I have one more long training run on Saturday, and a short run next Tuesday or Wednesday; haven’t quite decided which day will be best yet.

This is one of my shortest posts, ever. Long day, long week – brain is tired. Boston still weighing heavy, always at the back of my mind, regardless of what I’ve been doing over the past few days.

More tomorrow, I know when to bag it and call it a night.

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 12

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

The heavy heart I felt last night lingers – this morning I started my 5 mile Tuesday run thinking of little else but the Boston tragedy. Honestly, I can’t imagine there’s a runner anywhere today who didn’t have the same experience. I dedicated my run to the victims, but somehow, it didn’t ease my mind as much as I thought it would.

This afternoon I received an email announcement from the race director of my upcoming run (it’s a marathon AND a half marathon race), acknowledging the Boston tragedy and offering assurance of and outlining security precautions for the event. While I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the message, the fact that it was even necessary saddened me further, and sent a slight chill up my spine. There is no doubt that the cloud of this tragedy will hang over the start, race course, and finish of this race.

Running is about joy, freedom, peace. All of the things that terrorism (regardless of where it originates; foreign, domestic, or any other sort) is not. So as I was running, I decided not to participate in the ugliness by letting the “bad guys win” and the sadness overwhelm me, nor further antagonize myself by playing an endless loop of negative messages in my brain. Perhaps most helpful of all – I haven’t viewed news coverage since last night. I believe in staying up-to-date, but the media takes it too far, makes it too sensationalized.

Instead, I decided to run for peace and kept my mind occupied with this:

P – Perseverance

E – Equality

A – Acceptance

C – Consideration

E – Enlightenment

Join me. You don’t even have to be a runner. You can walk for peace, sing for peace, dance for peace, jump rope for peace. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how we get there, only that we do.

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 13

Monday, April 15th, 2013

It is with a heavy heart that I write today’s post.

I’m listening to coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and have only two questions. How can such an evil act touch such an innocent, joyful event? When will it end?

Just yesterday, I wrote about envisioning the actual day of an event you spend months training for. The joy, the excitement, the thrill.

In my wildest, most obscure thoughts, terrorism, bombings, and mass destruction weren’t even considered.

Tomorrow is a run day. Every step I take will be in honor of the Boston Marathon victims, their families, and their loved ones.

boston

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 14

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

When you’ve spent time planning for and/or working toward a big event, two weeks out from the actual date feels a bit surreal. A wedding, a vacation, a milestone birthday celebration (I’ve done all three), the ACTUAL event really doesn’t matter. You’ve envisioned what you want and taken small steps daily, weekly, and monthly to make it happen – you know, “working toward achieving the goal.”

Yet while you’re in the moment doing all the stuff that moves you forward, it’s not uncommon to lose sight of the ACTUAL DAY. Maybe not completely lose sight of it, but at times it can seem so far off that it feels like the ACTUAL DAY will never arrive. We all know THAT’S not true.

As I look two weeks into the future, I’m really getting excited for the race. Wait. I’m going to stop calling it “the race”, because I’m not racing – I’m just running. To finish. I’m not worried in the least that I won’t finish; this is my second ½ marathon, and I’ve long lost count of how many organized runs I’ve participated in. But I’m excited for all of the excitement that surrounds a running event.

My brother is training for the same race, er, run. In fact, he’s the reason I’m running this particular ½, so that makes it even more fun. I’ve never run a “travel race event” before; every event I’ve done has been close enough that I just get out of my own bed and show up at the finish line. Oh wait, except The Soldier Field 10-Mile that I ran two years ago – we stayed at a hotel downtown. But that doesn’t count – Chicago’s loop is a mere 25 miles from my driveway :). The race I’m doing on the 27th actually requires several hours of driving and a hotel. And a restaurant. More on that in another post. So a travel event is fun, too. It’s different – I love different.

So yesterday, as I ran my second to last distance training run (I did 12 miles again!), practiced using my Honey Stinger Acai Pomegranate Flavor Organic Energy Gel (which I just can’t get enough of, seriously,) and staying adequately hydrated (there’s the dietitian/nutritionist in me again), I thought about all of the hours I’ve put in for a (hopefully) 2.5 hour run on the ACTUAL day.

Most Delicious Energy Gel Ever!

Most Delicious Energy Gel Ever!

And I smiled. I thought about how it reminded me of planning for and anticipating my wedding, our vacation trips to all sorts of different (I love different) places, and that other ½ marathon that I ran two years ago. Life is essentially one, long, goal setting, planning and achieving event – what’s yours?

 

Daffodils & Mittens Should Not Appear In Same Pic.

Daffodils & Mittens Should Not Appear In Same Pic

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 16

Friday, April 12th, 2013

This week has been quite the week at the NutriFit studio for nutrition questions and discussion about who is qualified to know their (nutrition) stuff or not. I know this post is starting off a bit differently from my other Countdown posts, but at the end of the day, let’s not forget that I AM a dietitian/nutritionist, who also happens to be a fitness professional and a running junkie.

First up, the nutrition questions. I received two separate questions about SUGAR, and one, just this morning as I was working out, about PROTEIN SHAKES. I’ll save those for a future post, and for now will address the issue top of mind for me; who, exactly, is qualified to work as a nutrition expert? Two things got me going on the topic.

The first: The gym where I work out each day (no, I don’t work out at my own studio, I’m too busy WORKING when I’m here) is kicking off a series of nutrition programs led by a woman who, to the best of my knowledge (because if she had credentials they’d be highlighted on all of the program materials, right?) has only the experience of “The Academy of I Lost Weight” as her nutrition training. No nutrition degree, no credentialing by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Wait, she is listed as a “Healthy Living Adviser”. . .which is what, exactly?

The reason this sticks in my craw is because I worked long and hard to earn my nutrition degree, complete my internship, and earn my masters degree. I do medical nutrition therapy, and work as a nutrition therapist, helping people each and every week make changes that literally save their lives. I take the work that I do VERY seriously, and am privileged to be able to do it.

Not that this woman doesn’t take nutrition seriously. In fact, I’m sure she’s very enthusiastic and pro-nutrition, and probably a generally lovely person. I mean, good for her that she wants to help people be healthier – nothing wrong with that. But when, during the course of her programs she receives questions that can’t be answered from her book of “life-experience-with-losing-weight”, I shudder to think how she’ll respond. People frequently receive erroneous (and potentially harmful) nutrition information from people not qualified to be sharing it. This is also how nutrition myths and untruths are fueled.

The second: This article,”Actually, No You’re Not A Nutrition Expert”, by Dr. David Katz, eloquently and brilliantly captures the essence of the madness that surrounds the “everyone eats, so everyone is a nutrition expert” school of thought. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/nutrition-advice_b_3061646.html. Thank you, Dr. Katz, from a highly credentialed and experienced nutritionist who can proudly and legitimately call herself a nutrition expert.

The moral of this post? Check out the cred of anyone who calls themselves anything other than a registered dietitian/nutritionist. To be fair, I know there are qualified nutrition experts who aren’t RDN’s, but then, I know what to look for in credentials and can ferret them out – but I’m not confident the general public can.

Whew. Thanks, I feel so much better.

Generally Agreed Upon To Be a Healthy Choice.

Tossed, Green Salad. Generally Agreed Upon To Be a Safe, Healthy Choice.

 

 

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 17

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Another treadmill running day – almost afraid to comment on just how good I’m feeling AND running. I do shorter runs during the week, but regardless, I ran my last mile at 9.20 mph – woot! Well let me just stop while I’m ahead. . .no more comments (for now) on strong running. And speaking of strong running, know what else makes it happen?

A strong music playlist.

Unfortunately, my playlist is a tired playlist. I’m terrible about keeping my music up-to-date, which is such a shame, because you should NEVER underestimate the power of music. Research actually supports how music can have a positive impact on a workout, and I experience it every day; even with my tired playlist.

iTunes, here I come.

 

Countdown to 1/2 Marathon – Day 18

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

2-day (Days 19 and 18) summary!

Yesterday (Day 19) was a treadmill running day. Have you ever had one of those days where you’re glad to be working out, happy you can fit it into you day, thrilled when you check if off your “to do” list, but while you’re in the middle of it, fight to keep your mind from completely wandering somewhere else?

Well that describes yesterday. My running was strong, I felt really good in my body (no aches, pains, tightness – yay!), and I ran at 9.30 mph for the last mile and a half (fast for me). But my mind? I really struggled to manage it.

What to do? I practiced a made-up form of running meditation. I focused on my breathing. . in, out, in, out. I concentrated on my breath filling my lungs and then leaving through my exhale. I practiced visualization, pretending to see the FINISH banner hanging in front of me, and imagined running my last half mile as if I were actually at the race. I focused on body mechanics, uncurling my toes (why I curl them when I run I have no idea), intentionally landing on my heel and rolling through to my toes, I relaxed my shoulders.

Guess what. It worked. Thankfully I don’t need to regularly employ that much mental effort to run – but it’s good to know that when I need ’em, I’ve got some tricks. See if they don’t work for you next time you’re struggling. . .

Today (Day 18) was a strength training day. No mental anguish or wandering there! Worked chest and back muscles, and did a few light leg exercises. Back muscles sometimes get overlooked in the workout routine – but strong back muscles really help you run strong, so make it a habit to include them.

Dumbbell