The Cost of Health

As a fitness professional who focuses daily on healthy-nutritional choices (for myself and my clients) I am saddened to see healthy food choices are still costing so much more than junk food. I understand that junk food is called “junk” because that it is made up of man-processed and highly-altered basic ingredients like refined sugar, sodium, high fructose corn syrup, etc. and that those ingredients are in abundance and therefore inexpensive to produce. I also understand that “fads” are great vehicles for capitalism to charge higher amounts for these newly in-demand items. But what worries me most is that very few people are factoring in the health costs that arise from eating the cheap stuff for years and years.

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Recently I took my daughter and some friends to a water-park for a day of refreshing fun. The park very clearly stated on their website and at their gate that NO outside food was allowed in the park, so off we went with fingers crossed that there would be something decent to eat. When lunch time rolled around, the choices were black and white: fried, salty, sugary cheaply produced crap at a very affordable price, or one (and I do mean singular) option that was healthy but cost twice as much.

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So my daughter had a slice of greasy cheese pizza and a large (only one size) lemonade (better than soda?) for $5.95. I had a small dollop of hummus in a plastic box containing 10 carrot and celery sticks, five triangles of bland pita bread, and a bottle of water for $12.00! So clearly sugary-water, and bread with a slathering of tomato paste and some generic cheese is cheaper to produce than a small scoop of garbanzo bean paste (humus) and some generic veggie slices?!

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I perused the rest of the menu and found the most financially enticing options were for “families” – a whole pizza, 4 large sodas, and 4 churros (fried Mexican doughnut sticks) was only $19.00 = $4.75 per person for a family to ingest overly-processed and nutritionally void carbs, fats, sugars and salts. But hey, food is food, right?

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This up-charging of “healthy” food choices happens everywhere from McDonald’s (sodas are cheaper than bottled water) to cafes and bistros (adding cheese to a sandwich is often free but adding avocado or brown rice costs $1.00 more). I remember the last time I went to Disneyland the snack items that were sugary and salty (popcorn, ice cream, etc.) were one price level, and the “healthy options” like fresh fruit, granola bars, and trail mix were a higher price. Just yesterday at a gas station we stopped at returning from a vacation, I bought two bananas – the cost $2.75 – but a bag of fruit flavored candies on display beside the fresh fruit was only 99¢.

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What really frustrates me is that I do not believe that healthy food is more expensive to create or purchase by retailers. Granted, organic foods can cost more due to small production sizes, etc., but I know that this game of cost is all tied to the need of Americans to eat as much food as they can for as little money as possible. The majority of consumers don’t care about the quality of the food as long as it tastes good and is in abundance.

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As I stated at the top of this rant, the “down the road” health ramifications, and costs incurred therein are very real, though most prefer to stay blissfully ignorant of the future. But you cannot escape the truth that consistently eating saturated fats, volumes of refined sugar and sodium will cause havoc on your insides and eventually result in the need for medical help and prescription drugs – all of which cost way more than that pizza you just ate!

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Unfortunately, I do not see an improvement in this imbalance to the cost and availability of healthy food compared to junk until the masses demand a more balanced choice and price for their “on the go” meals.

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Work Your Strengths.

The most valuable tool in your fitness arsenal is motivation. One of the best ways to stay motivated is to see and feel results. The fastest way to see and feel results is through resistance training (weight lifting). I’ve already discussed in my blog that women need to lift weights more often and heavier than most do – that you won’t look like a muscle-bound German swim team member, and that you’ll burn more fat calories than cardio. So the beneficial reasons are clearly well stated and proven – now you just might need a little more help getting and staying motivated to keep pushing and pulling those heavy weights.

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Therefore, my advice today is to work your strengths. Everyone, every body type, has one or two muscle groups that are their strongest muscles and/or the ones they like to work the best. For me it’s my biceps and triceps. For you it might be your quads (thigh muscles), pecs (chest), or deltoids (shoulders). Regardless of which muscles they are, playing to your strengths will deliver quick results which in turn garner huge increases in your motivation to work harder.

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Despite having long thin arm muscles, I am unusually strong in my biceps and triceps and can lift way more than others my size. Therefore, my ego gets a huge boost which drives me to lift more, and I see quick growth (tone and definition) in my arms which makes me very driven to see more results.

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Back when my best friend and I were workout partners, she, who is five inches shorter than me, had huge arms (shorter muscles get larger quicker), but couldn’t curl as much as I. Conversely her chest was her strongest muscle group, and she could bench press twice as much as I could. Consequently she loved chest and back days, while I preferred arm days. But together we kept each other motivated. (Hint: there’s another tip if you missed it … workout out with a spouse or friend and keep each other accountable and motivated.)

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I guarantee each of you have one workout day or one body part is that is your favorite and that you can willingly (and enthusiastically) push yourself to do more with. I challenge you to do so, while not forgetting to push a little harder on your other muscle groups until all your workouts are challenging and enjoyable.

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Now go lift!

Here Comes Wall-E

Remember the movie Wall-E, about a robotic trash compactor who was left alone on earth while the rest of us fled into space because our massive quantities of waste and laziness had left our planet uninhabitable?

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The human race was depicted as a bunch of bulbous muscle-atrophied blimps that couldn’t even walk anymore. Well the other day when I heard a report on NPR about Amazon testing out drones that could deliver shopping orders within one hour, I immediately pictured us heading towards Wall-E-life.

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These days so much more of our life is automated and customized to allow us to never have to leave our house, or more importantly get off our butts! Even the fact that my profession has evolved into a focus of 30-minutes or less being all that’s required of you to get or stay in shape, is indicative of our slide towards inactivity and lethargy.  If you don’t use it you lose it, as the saying goes, and I’m talking about your muscles, including your brain, the biggest muscle of them all. While electronics give us the freedom to do more while sitting sedentary, cars are also quickly taking over our need to even think – self-parking, many with wi-fi and gps, and soon self-driving.

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I myself haven’t walked a Mall for Christmas shopping in over eight years – I do it all on-line. Well with one-hour delivery from Amazon looming on the horizon, and the increase in grocery and food staples delivery options (like Thrive Market or Blue Apron) pretty soon we won’t have to leave the house for anything other than work or entertainment.

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This worries me, not only as a personal trainer, but as a person dedicated to keeping my body healthy and moving for decades to come. While I have no direct solution for the impending onslaught of these supposed technological enhancements, I will say that we must all make a commitment to keep moving and thinking and doing for ourselves despite the appeal and ease of these technology-based shortcuts.

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Let us not become inert puffy beings who have more litter than the planet can house, and keep our brains sharp and our muscles strong. I for one, will enjoy what our future has in store for us with electronics and computers, but I will always strive to move more and stay active despite them.

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Fitness on Vacation

As we hit the midway mark of the summer I, like many of you, am readying to take a long vacation with my family. I am likewise concerned, as you may be, about how to get my workouts done while on vacation. While I am always full of well-intentioned commitments to exercise while on holiday, it may surprise you to know that I too experience a significant drop in my motivation to exercise while enjoying my time off.

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So what can we do to maintain our fitness goals while on vacation? My first suggestion is to be okay with not working out. That’s right, I said it’s okay to skip a week. In fact I frame my workouts (my own and for my clients) in 6-week intervals with a mandatory week off before a new routine starts. This allows for complete recovery and rest and readies the muscles for new abuses. I thus, try to time my vacations with that week off, or shift things around to allow for it.

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However, it is worth noting that a large percentage of people find they do not gain more body fat while on vacation as they are moving more than they do during a usual work week. Between swimming, walking, hiking, or even dodging through crowds at theme parks, you will likely burn more calories than you do during your average sedentary job. Now of course there’s the extra high-caloric intake that also comes along with vacations – more cocktails, sweets, and fried or exotic foods are common – but again if you’re moving more than usual, you might at least break even.

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Depending upon your destination, try to schedule at least one thing per week that is physically different than your norm: i.e., a snorkel trip, a day-long hike or river raft trip, a walking exploration of pyramids or volcanos, or just a family game of beach volleyball.  One “excursion” like this can utilize muscles in a way your body isn’t accustomed too, and the caloric burn of that will benefit you greatly.

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Another suggestion is for you to reserve 30-minutes every day for focused movement or exercise. If you’re walking/hiking more than usual, take a half hour before bed to stretch your muscles (improvise some yoga or pull up something on YouTube). If your vacation days are more sedentary (just sitting by the pool), then commit to a 30-minute visit to a gym or a class (offered at many resorts or on cruise ships), follow along with a YouTube exercise video on your phone, tablet or laptop, or bring your own resistance bands and attack your muscles in the comfort of your hotel room.

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My last piece of advice I can share with my fellow vacationers is this: RELAX. Life for most of us is hectic and stressful and relaxation is a huge component in your body’s ability to stop holding onto excess body fat as well as maintaining a good immune system. So let your brain unwind, don’t eat complete crap, and if possible throw in a few workouts and your vacation will be successful and your fitness goals don’t have to suffer any setbacks.

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Now go enjoy that holiday/vacation!

Your Car = Your Body?

This may sound odd, but the condition you maintain your car reflects a lot about the condition you keep your body. Even more importantly, there’s often a direct correlation between those of you who do not keep your car clean and free of clutter and your inability achieve your fitness goals. Sounds debatable? Well here are my reasons behind this week’s blog:

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Raise your hand if your car’s interior is cluttered with litter and things because in your hectic daily life you and/or your kids eat in the car, get changed or apply make up, and/or have all the seats and door pockets stuffed to gills with “stuff” you or the kids “need.” Now raise your hand if your weekly workouts take a “back seat” to the rest of your “priorities.” I bet 95% of you who acknowledged the first hand raising, also raised your hand for the second.

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If you don’t keep a vigilant check on your car’s oil levels, tire pressure, wiper fluid, etc., then you likely don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying over your water intake or if you’ve ingested enough protein today. The bottom line is that if you only see your vehicle as a device that aids in you getting things done, but you have little respect or care for it’s internal condition, the same is probably true for your body.

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Now you might say I could use the same analogy for messy or chaotic homes, but I specifically focus on the car example because a car filled with loose change, straw wrappers, receipts, papers, odd random devices, toys, shoes and clothes is indicative of a person who is always running a touch late, racing from commitment to commitment, and therefore is probably going to leave exercise and nutrition off their “must do list.”

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As you know if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, exercise and nutrition MUST be on top of your “must do list” (not your “to do list”) if you want to achieve a healthy body (and mind) that will support the rest of your hectic life for years to come.

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So the next time you hop in your vehicle, notice the state of your interior, and think about how that reflects upon your life. If it’s a mess and you’re lamenting that you’re not eating right or exercising enough … perhaps the place to start making a change is in how you treat your car. A clean car = a life calm enough to not have to do non-car chores outside of the car – including proper nutrition and getting in those workouts.

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Food Prep 101

Successful fat loss goals are achieved 70% in the kitchen, 20% by how well and often you move your body, and 10% from your mental state. Today I want to focus on the kitchen end of things.

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Food prep is where so many well-intentioned fat loss seekers (people who want to “lose weight”) drop the ball. For you to succeed at your fitness goals excuses like I have no time to cook or I didn’t know what to eat and was hungry so I just grabbed something must be removed from your lexicon!

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Now I’m not going to give you a meal plan to follow (although [shameless plug here] you can order a customized meal plan from my website www.workouts247.com and I’m not going to reiterate what I’ve stated numerous times herein about eating 6 small meals/snacks a day, and avoiding overly processed, sugary and salty foods. What I am going to address is food prep because that is the most time intensive aspect of nutrition and the area that usually intimidates people the most.

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As you embark on the journey to change your nutrition there are four (4) important steps you need to understand. The first step is to have a meal plan in place complete with recipes or “meal concepts” for each day of the week. The second step is to prepare a comprehensive list and then shop for the requisite ingredients. The third step (which I am focusing on today) is to prepare as much of the food in advance so that step four – the eating at regular intervals step – can be easily achieved.

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I always advise my clients to set aside one day for grocery shopping (which, if your list is in hand, should only take one hour at most), and a chunk of time for the food prep (can be the same day as shopping or a day or two later).

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Food prep can take anywhere from 1-4 hours depending upon how many meals and/or snacks you are preparing. The essential key here is to lock in the time required as a firm appointment you keep with yourself. Using cookbooks, Pinterest pins, or just your imagination, you can create several recipes ahead of time that will last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Meals needed for the later in your week can still be made ahead of time and frozen until needed.

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The most important aspect to all of your food prep is to enjoy the process (do not see it as drudgery). As you become more comfortable with the planning and preparation process, you can expand your variety and pretty soon you’ll enjoy entire weeks of healthy, lean, flavorful meals and the “I have no time” excuse will be a thing of the past. Also, cooking together as a couple or family is a great way to spend quality time (without any electronics in front of your faces).

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Here are a few timesaving tricks to follow, and of course, if you desire more specific advice, direction or a meal plan, contact me directly:

Veggies can be cleaned and sliced and placed in a ziplock bag or food storage container for use later in the week.

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Pre-cooked snacks (like my quinoa, black bean, and spinach egg muffins for example), fresh fruit and veggies, nuts, and dried meats (like turkey jerky) can all be individually wrapped in bags or containers that you can “grab ‘n go.”

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Breakfast items can be made the night before and simply reheated in the morning when there is less time to cook (i.e., breakfast burrito, overnight oats, etc.).

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Crockpot (slow cooker) meals are a great way to easily create enough food to serve several lunches or dinners, and the prep work can be done the night before, then plunk everything into the pot, set it and forget it until you get home for dinner.

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Always have a few fast-but-healthy items on hand (fridge, freezer, pantry) such as turkey burgers, salad veggies, cans of tuna or salmon as all of these can be turned into quick meals.

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More time intensive items like brown rice, quinoa, or gluten-free pasta can be pre-cooked ahead of time and stored in the fridge for up to four days. Then on any given night simply oven-roast or sauté your pre-sliced veggies and protein, sprinkle them with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and any of your favorite herbs and spices, then toss them all in one large pan and roast or sauté until done. Add in the already prepared side (rice, quinoa, etc.) and you’ve a dish that can serve for two family-sized meals (with correct quantity planning).

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Men And Women Are Not Equal

Despite not enjoying the American past-time of watching any sport teams on TV, when it comes to the Olympics I’m obsessed. I DVR every single moment of coverage and for two-weeks every two years I’m glued to the set. As a personal trainer, it should not surprise you to know that I’m also addicted to the show American Ninja Warrior.

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But lately, as I watch ANW and the Olympic trials I have noticed that comments to the likes of “that’s incredible for a woman” or “women can’t usually do that as well [fast or strong] as men” are thrown about constantly by commentators. At first I got my feminist panties in a bunch, until I remembered that they’re right. Even if you compare apples to apples – a professionally trained woman and man of equal size, weight and body composition percentages (muscle and fat), the men will still likely be a touch faster and stronger simply because of the difference in our physiology.

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While there are always exceptions to every rule, the reality is that women’s bodies are not built the same as men’s and those differences come strongly into play where sports are concerned. Our pectorals (chest muscles), forearms, and grip strength, even on a superior female athlete, are never going to be stronger than most men’s.

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Look at Olympic sprinters: men still hold faster world records – why? Well you take the length and girth of their leg muscles compared to a women of even the same height, and they will simply have more muscle strength to speed them down the track. It’s physiology, not sexism.

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Olympic weight lifters have the same issue – the men constantly lift heavier than women. Again, that doesn’t mean that many women can’t lift more than many men, but it does mean pound for pound the men will always be able to lift past our strongest women.

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As for ANW, clearly if you take an professional female rock climber and put her next to your average body builder, she can out maneuver him on any obstacle course. But put her next to the top male rock climber and the odds are against her being able to be as strong as him. (But it’s important to note that sometimes cleverness and agility wins out over strength in those areas women often prevail!)

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On Monday night’s ANW episode Jessie Graff went farther than all but one man (out of 28 men and 2 women). She did this through strength, agility and using her brain to overcome an obstacle that scores of men had been defeated by. The commentators praised her though their voices held such shock: “Jessie just bested all those guys!” As annoying as that was, I full well that it is rare that a woman goes further than 99% of the men. Every year only one-to-three women even get to the finals in Las Vegas, and it’s not because of lack of training or trying.

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When women’s inequality generalizations are bantered about we must also remember that often the women competing are not apples-to-apples to their male counterparts.  Over 95% of the women who compete on AMW are under 5′ 7″ and weigh less than 125 lbs, while the average male competitor is 5′ 9″ and weights 155.  It’s simple math to know that the men’s muscle weight will help them go further (endurance-wise) than the women, and their arm and leg length being longer also helps.  Again, I am not saying a tiny woman can’t go far in this (or any) sport — look at 5′ 0″ 95 lb Kacy Catanzaro the first woman to beat the 14′ warped wall obstacle and earn a place in the Las Vegas finals.  Take that men!

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While it’s disheartening to my gender to hear constant quips of our inequality (which on all other issues is bull), on this issue I think it best that we continue striving to be better, faster, and stronger, but let go of the idea that we need to be equal to men.

Just How Independent Are You?

In light of America’s Independence Day having just been celebrated, today I thought I’d address independence. What does independence mean to you? The dictionary defines it as: freedom from the control, influence, support, or aid of others [or things].

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As I’ve discussed many times within my blog, if you obsess about anything (or everything) — whether it be your food intake, your workouts, your relationships, or your general state of unhappiness – then I must tell you, you aren’t very independent. You are not free from control or influence – you are a slave to your obsession (i.e., your brain).  We can all become bound to our worries by focusing exclusively on what we perceive is “wrong” in our personal lives. If you break those chains, then you might just achieve true independence from the crap that has been keeping you down.

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When it comes to nutrition, you must remember to not use words like diet, cheat, or avoid. These words trigger negative emotions in your brain that will sabotage your maintain a healthy nutrition. Eating in a manner that supports a long and healthy life with energy and acceptable levels of body fat is not achieved by restricting your cravings or temporarily suspending your willingness to act upon those cravings. Cheating implies you’ve done something wrong, and eating a single slice of chocolate cake after a great day of lean healthy clean nutrition, is not wrong. Eating three slices isn’t even wrong, but it is a poor choice and you’ll likely feel very bad physically after (not to mention mentally).

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Fitness too, needs to be handled in a way that becomes a constant and reliable part of your daily/weekly life. Berating yourself because of a missed workout (or even a week) is not the end of your world, but giving up when it gets hard or you’re a little sore is not the right approach either. Stressing over how many (or few) calories you’ve burned in a day is a waste of negative emotion, and definitely does not make you a relaxed and independent person!

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All of us have issues that consume our attention at one point or another, but giving up other aspects of your life to focus strictly on those issues is allowing self to be dependent upon something or someone that ultimately isn’t bettering you or your life. Remind yourself that you have the freedom of independent thinking and independent will (free-will),and that no one thought can control you.

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So take a moment and analyze just how independent from obsessions are you? To truly be independent in a healthy way, you have to find balance in your life, which cannot be achieved until you stop giving control of your body to your emotional state of mind!

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The first step towards that is remembering my mantra everything in moderation, even moderation!

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Is Fast Fitness For You?

There’s long been a debate in the fitness industry as to whether rapid fire or slow paced workouts are better. As a Personal Trainer I know that both styles have pros and cons in their affect on our bodies, and in fact I employ both styles with my clients and my own workouts. There’s a time and place to perform high intensity, light weight, heart-rate racing routines and the same for heavy weight, slow, low muscle fatiguing routines, and a lot depends upon your body type and goals.

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But despite having already written herein about the benefits of HIIT-high intensity interval training (see Sometimes Less Is More), and marketing my practice on 30-minute high-results routines, I still find many people unsatisfied with how long they have to spend exercising. They want to change their bodies for the better in as little time as possible. So the fads continue, whether gear or groundbreaking new approach — each one is designed to make workout quick and painless, and each one fails.

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It started with 6-minute abs DVD’s and now there’s 2-minute workouts all over the internet (2-minute arms, 2 minute glutes, etc).  At this rate I should create the 1-minute workout DVD’s and retire a year from now off the proceeds. Humor set aside, there’s only so much you can do to trim off time while speeding up the workout and still see results (and avoid injuries).  The reality too is that whether you spend 2 minutes or 60 on your abs, unless healthy lean nutrition is involved and consistent workouts with proper techniques you will NOT have washboard abs.

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But in the interest of exploring new levels of fitness, I offer you speed-minded peeps (or exercise hating folks) who want to fire off a super-fast workout and then get on with your life, an opportunity to try my new Fast Five Fitness Workout!  Get the job done in only 5 minutes!

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I have created four routines – the idea being that you would exercise four times a week, each one delivering slightly different assaults on your muscles and stamina. So here’s the first. If you need a detailed explanation of these exercises or more importantly if you want all four routines customized to your specific fitness levels and goals, then contact me. (My blog followers will receive a 10% discount.)

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You’ll need a little walking room (enough to do a few lunges forward and back), a yoga or cushioned mat, and a pair of dumbbells ranging from 8-15 lbs. Keep the pace as fast as you can with NO rest until completion (should take ONLY 5 minutes depending upon your speed). Good luck!

  • 20 jumping jacks
  • 20 DB lunge walks with shoulder presses
  • 20 jump squats
  • 20 DB biceps curls combo’d with prone DB alternating arm rows
  • 20 Running mans
  • 20 Alternating Leg Up DB biceps “hammer” curls (10 on each leg)
  • 20 Prones to Planks (10 right lead, 10 left lead)
  • 20 v-sit side-to-side DB taps

Mirror Mirror

The quest for simplistic happiness is a never ending pursuit for many of us. We read self-improvement books, attend guru-lead conferences, learn to meditate, make don’t sweat the small stuff a mantra, and yet that inner peace still eludes us. Well I’ve figured out the key to removing at least 50% of our daily stress. Stop looking in the mirror!

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Sounds silly, but let us not forget Narcissus who lost his ability to sustain his life after being unable to pull himself away from his own reflection in the river. How many times a day to you check your teeth, hair, makeup, clothes, etc? More importantly how many times does your reflection change your mood? I have come to realize that there’s a lot of daily negative emotions that are borne from what we see in mirrors.

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On any given day a woman’s mood can be tarnished if they think their hair isn’t looking up to snuff. Passing by a mirror you catch a glimpse of your butt or tummy and immediately fall into a funk because you’re “still not thin enough.” When you look at your reflection do you shrug dejectedly because you don’t like the way you look, or do you smile more radiantly because that self-check just responded back with approval. How much power can we give one polished piece of glass?

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Even the popular trend of selfies is still “looking in the mirror.” Pursing your lips to make your cheeks thinner and your lips fuller; changing the angle of the photo to catch your “better side.” It’s all so silly and so wasteful of our time and energy.

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Have you ever been so busy that you haven’t looked at your reflection in several hours. Your day is speeding by, your mood and energy are up and focused. Then you finally happen into the restroom or home to your closet to change and BAM it hits you. Like Narcissus you stare in the mirror and are horrified to see your hairstyle has flattened, you’ve got stuff in your teeth, or a stain on your shirt. That little moment can ruin all the success of your day.

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I have known a few people who are so discouraged by their appearance they avoid mirrors and photographs at all costs. While they may not suffer the little insults the mirror hands out to those of us who love analyzing our reflection, they still have issues with the idea behind a mirror. To avoid one is still negatively time consuming.

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Another detrimental aspect of all this mirror gazing is that each subsequent generation picks up the narcissistic habit.  My young daughter has asked me a full-length mirror and I’ve not complied.  Her self-esteem is going to be tested enough come middle and high school, she doesn’t need to get that self-obsessed yet.

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The bottom line is mirrors are a useful tool but they have no power – except what you the user give them. Sure we all want to walk out of the house feeling comfortable with the external package we present. But remember that a mirror cannot change the way you feel. Only your reaction to it can. So if what you see is causing you angst – make sure there’s a real problem to be dealt with (i.e., dental floss or tucking in your shirt) – but don’t let it be a downer. If the problem is larger (i.e., fat loss, acne, bad hair cut) – be proactive and focus on solving the issue, not just lamenting that the damn mirror isn’t your friend. Take your power back – you’ll be less stressed and find more happiness if you just stop checking the mirror.