The Art of Relationships

For most people, success in life is measured by the job they hold, the money they make, and the possessions they acquire. We raise our children to aim for this trifecta, focusing on school and grades and constant “upward” movement. Unfortunately I feel the most important skill or tool that we can provide our children with to help them “succeed” in life is often the least focused on – relationships.

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Relationships are the essence of our lives and without the ability to maintain good relationships, I believe we truly cannot succeed. From home life to the office, if you cannot communicate and work well with people, your forward movement is limited. If you do not have a supportive group of family and friends (co-workers too), all of your challenges and hardships rest solely on your head and shoulders.

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But a person who cultivates and cares for relationships above college degrees, money, and acclaim is a person who will get further than just their career/life experience will take them. Did you know that people who were in fraternities or sororities are 60% more likely to have successful careers because they have a network of built-in friends to gain support, leads, and referrals from? Again, it’s about relationships!

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Consider two people with the same exact education and experience applying for the same job. Person A has not learned the fine art of conversation, improvisation, and the ability to find something to relate to with everyone they meet. Person B puts relationships and real communication paramount over everything else they do, and they want people to be comfortable around them.  Guess who gets the job?

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In this age of technology-focused society, the current generation(s) are learning texting instead of talking. We are pushing our youth to stay ahead of the curve with their computer skills and educational goals, which is essential to stay competitive with other countries, but they’re missing out on skills that can really make the difference in the quality of their lives, as well as their careers.

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It’s the same for intimate relationships (marriages, partnerships). A person who is content with only their significant other and/or children for company and does not work at maintaining relationships with life-long friends (who often have moved far away) or does not seek to create new friendships is keeping their world (and therefore their growth) very small and limited. This also teaches children that friendships and the work required to maintain them is not as important as having a family and plowing forward.

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My mother instilled in me the fine art of conversation, something seriously lacking in so many adults, not to mention children, these days. She said there was always something to talk about with anyone you meet. She taught me to ask questions, and then listen to their answers. While this skill has helped me more times than I can count (garnered me many a job lead or an awesome new friend), I am saddened to see how many adults cannot reciprocate. Often they do not engage in asking questions back – a “get to know you” kind of exchange. Once I’m done “interviewing” and offering a few clever anecdotes of my own, the conversation ceases as they do not know how to communicate back. So many people feel uncomfortable unless they’re only talking about themselves (which is very one-sided).  How do you fare where you are forced to mingle with people you do not know?

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In the next week as you think upon this post, look at how you communicate with friends and strangers. Look at how they communicate back to you. See if you can find examples of where your relationships with someone benefited your goals, or where not having certain types of relationships have held you back. Then see what you can do to improve the quality of your relationships and communication skills. Remember there is value in having true, honest and reliable relationships in your life, and those relationships start by you being true, honest and reliable.

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Caring vs. Living

How much time do you spend in a day thinking or worrying about what other people may think of you? Take your time, really think about this. I know that most of us spend a great deal of time concerned with how our actions or words will affect (or have affected) our family, friends, co-workers, and yes, even strangers. This appears to be a built-in commonality to most humans – it is in our “human nature” to need each other. We all instinctively desire families and friends, and as we evolved as a civilization, that instinct created a side-affect of caring about how others view us.

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Recently I’ve been analyzing this trait we share, with the realization that while caring about approval is important, we waste a lot of time caring about the wrong issues or people.  There are, of course, millions of individuals who seem to not care what other’s think, demonstrated either by their clear disregard for anyone’s wishes other than their own, or their overly-vehement verbal claims that they just don’t care what anyone thinks (Mr. Trump?). But even for these types, I know with certainty that in some aspect, in certain circumstances, or at the very least with a select few people in their lives, these non-care-ers do in fact care very much. They’ve just adopted the habit of shrugging their shoulders and letting go of the emotional turmoil that can come with caring. Sometimes we envy those who seem to not care because it appears freeing and less stressful. But remember once you force human nature to not care, you loose a lot of joy in life that comes from caring.

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Now caring should not be confused with compassion, sympathy and empathy — which we all should strive to have more of. But caring to the point that we berate ourselves for our choices, or feel embarrassment or guilt about our actions, is the issue I’m addressing today.

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How many times have you stopped yourself from doing something because you worried about how you might look or sound. What experiences have you missed out on because of this? The sad thing is that 90% of the time no one would have judged you poorly or possibly even noticed. The remaining 10% of the time, or rather the remaining 10% of people who might have a negative opinion, they’re either strangers that you will NEVER see again, or they are friends/family who better have unconditional love for you or they’re not worth being in your lives (in my opinion)!

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Children do not start out with these concerns, they do and say what they want and live life to the fullest learning along the way how far they can go on pure instinct and the desire to find joy and fun in everything. It is only in the structured social and behavioral environment of school that they start to care – or more precisely start to temper their choices based upon their concern that other’s might judge them negatively. While sometimes this is a good lesson (i.e., not to put their bodies in harms way, not to speak out of turn, not to say hurtful things, etc.) it also crushes our inherent instincts to step out on a ledge and try something new.

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While I’m not offering a solution to this dilemma today, I simply want to bring it to your consciousness and offer the reminder that some aspects of childlike abandon could do your life some good. Adulthood doesn’t mean we should stop learning or seeking to push ourselves and our minds and constantly seek new experiences. We have the benefit of adult wisdom when it comes to protecting our bodies and minds, but perhaps we should incorporate back in some of the innocence and bravery of youth. So stop worrying so much about what other’s think and just worry about if you’re doing right by YOU!

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Authentic vs. Honest

A current hot catch-phrase in my industry is “are you living an authentic life?” I hear and read that slogan frequently and I always scream in my head what the hell does that mean? Are people running around living false lives? Well in a way, yes. The issue for me is that I think “truth” is a better and more easily applied word than “authentic.”

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One of Webster’s dictionary definitions of the word authentic is “representing one’s true nature or beliefs…” While that definition is easy to understand, it can be a hard put into practice. How does one represent their “true nature or beliefs?”

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Clearly I do understand the essence of this phrase – that many people choose to not follow their dreams or listen to their instincts, and end up living out circumstances that they never intended or wanted. But my issue is that to live authentically one must first really know and understand who they are and what they want. While some of us enter adulthood already having figured out who we are and what we want (and then spend the rest of our 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s refining that), there is a huge quantity of adults walking around who simply do not know the answers to those questions.

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That’s not a criticism mind you, it is a reality that not all personalities are able, or in some cases even willing, to set in stone the life they want to live. There is nothing wrong with going with the wind and currents and just enjoying where life takes you and how it shapes you, if that’s is who you are. So who then, is really living the “authentic” life? Is it people like me who have things all mapped out and goals firmly being adhered to, or is it those who fly by the seat of their pants? I think what it comes down to is if you are happy with the life you’re living. After all, either approach can leave a person feeling unsatisfied and/or lost.

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To me, what’s truly important is honesty. Are you honest with yourself and those around you – honest about who you are and what you want? Honesty can be much more easily applied to one’s life than authenticity, don’t you think? Perhaps then, the better way to state the catch-phrase would be “are you living an honest life?

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To that end, I leave you with the true essence behind this posting: if you are not living an honest life, if you are not being honest with yourself, remember that life (or time) seems to zip by very quickly (you know the other old catch-phrase life is short). Now I know how hard it is for many of you to be honest. Honesty is sometimes scary for while it’s freeing for the deliverer, it can be painful for the recipient. But honesty, as we teach our children, is always better than the burden of lying (or in this case, living a lie).

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So dig deep, don’t let fear stop you, and start being honest. Remember to take baby steps, and be patient, it will get easier, and that honesty must always be delivered compassionately (that includes to yourself). Honesty is the most powerful tool to altering your life’s course. Take heart in those that live an honest life for they demonstrate that when we live an honest life, we are at the very least, happier and able to breath just a little bit better.

How Flexible Are You?

One of the most important aspects of fitness is often the least focused on – that of flexibility. I must confess that even I tend to place the least priority on flexibility – me a former full-time dance student! But in our fast-paced, jam-packed lives, it often seems that all we have time to focus on is exercising (cardio & resistance training) and nutrition (which we know to be the largest part of the fitness pie. But I need to remind us all that flexibility is a major and necessary component of total fitness.

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It doesn’t matter how strong your muscles are if you don’t the flexibility to move them in a full range of motion then you will not be able to push past your current fitness levels (i.e., burn more fat). Without good flexibility you’ll not be able to run or even walk the speed and distances you seek, for your muscles will be too tight and too shortened and therefore your legs will simply lock up.

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If your job keeps you in a sedentary seated position for long hours, it’s hugely important to stretch and lengthen your muscles and spine (see last week’s blog Respect Your Spine).  This will improve circulation which will in turn improve your productivity.

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Of course as a Life Coach, I can not ignore the figurative necessity for flexibility in our minds and attitudes as well. Emotional flexibility allows us to embrace change better and affect change in our lives – and our workouts.

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So today I’m suggesting that we all commit (myself included) to improving our flexibility over the next month, and then we can compare notes and really testify to the benefits of being more flexible.

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First, prioritize and schedule a small chunk of time for stretching (10 mins minimum). It’s important that your body be warmed up so I recommend either right after a shower, or right after a long day but prior to being sedentary for several hours. (In other words, after you’ve come home from work and made dinner, but before you plop down on the sofa to binge watch Netflix for a few hours before bed).

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Second, challenge those around you and keep each other accountable and on task. Flexibility is essential and beneficial to everyone around you, whether children or seniors, spouses or co-workers. The more people in your life that will take the time to stretch with you (although it doesn’t have to be at the exact same time), the more likely we will all achieve this goal and reap the rewards.

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Third, remember to be flexible in your head and heart. Not only does this reduce the emotional tightening of your muscles (no more stress headaches), but it will likely improve your relationships too. Be more willing to see the other side of things, and be more forgiving of yourself and others.

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Lastly, I will leave you with a few specific details about the best way to be flexible, i.e., stretching techniques:

  • Never stretch cold muscles.
  • Always move slowly into a position that stretches the desired muscles to the point where you want to stop. Then hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds, while breathing in a slow and relaxed manner. Then stretch further and repeat the hold and breathing. Do this one more time on that muscle and then you can move on to the next.
  • Start at the head/neck and move down towards feet: neck, shoulders, lower back, glutes (butt), hamstrings (back of thighs), feet/ankles. Look on the internet, YouTube or ask me for specific examples of stretches that you can practice.

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Now go be flexible and improve the quality of your body and your life!

Respect Your Spine

In previous posts I have addressed the isues of postural distortions due to the rise of poor computer posture and too much slouched TV watching (What About Posture, Kids and Postural Distortions). Today I want to be a bit more focused on my pet peeve of poor posture by specifically addressing the spine.

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The spine is our the gateway from our brain to the rest of the of our body. While the fitness and medical industries direct your attention to healthy nutrition and regular exercise for improving one’s health and longevity, we often forget that the spine is as essential as the brain to maintaining health.

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If the spine is not cared for, you can suffer from a myriad of serious issues ranging from lack of joint movement due to nerve impingement; chronic pain due to compressed or bulging discs; and even lack of mobility if the spine suffers a major bone break.

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So how do we take better care of our spines you ask? Here are some helpful tips to address that question:

Reassess your standing and sitting posture.

From how you sit at your desk/computer to how you watch TV. and especially how you drive – you must always be aware to not slouch – to reduce the c-shaped curve you place your spine into when you slouch. Reclining is okay, and you don’t have to always sit like there’s a stick up your butt, but you should constantly be aware if your shoulders and/or hips are rounding forward. Straighten up, relax your shoulders while keeping them level and blood flow will course through your spine with ease.

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Stretch in opposition.

In layman’s terms, if you spend a large amount of time in a sitting position where you might assume the c-shaped spinal posture – spend time each day stretching in the opposite direction. The best way to do this is to lay on your back over a large stability ball, relax hips and stretch your arms out wide so that your spine is gently placed into a reverse c-shape. Yoga and other slow moving, spine lengthening disciplines are another way to reverse the effects of c-shape spinal compression.

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Enhance circulation through exercise.

Low-impact cardio exercise is a great way to increase blood flow through and from your spine. Even quick bursts of movement (like 10 burpees or 25 jumping jacks) are a great way to heat up and stimulate necessary circulation of blood and oxygen to and from your spine, with the added bonus of boosting your metabolism and energizing your brain, which in turn stimulates circulation through the spine (a non-vicious cycle).

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Make spinal posture be a priority in the next few weeks and you’ll not only feel and see a difference, but you’ll soon replace bad habits with more healthy ones and the benefits will compound.  Respect your spine, and your health will benefit.

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Stop Pointing Fingers

Despite our currently volatile political climate, the title of this week’s post is not about the ugly mess in D.C., but rather about the continuing tendency to single out carbs and calories by those seeking to lose body fat. This past weekend my nephew mentioned that his entire office was going to stop eating carbs and wanted him to join in. He cited all my reasons why that is an ill-advised way to permanently lower body fat levels, but they ignored him/me.

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A few days later my niece was ordering a salad and I advised her to add protein onto it (for her fitness goals) and she lamented that doing so heavily increased the calories. Once again, the top two faux pas “dieters” make is to eliminate carbs and calories!

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Therefore, today I want to once again strongly advise you all to stop seeing carbs or calories as the enemy and start seeing nutrition as one tool (vs. obstacle) in your quest for a healthy lifestyle that facilitates proper and permanent fat loss.

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Carbs are necessary! They are essential to providing the energy required to get through your day, least of which is to get you through a killer workout (another necessary element of fat loss). Carbs come in two primary forms – “healthy” (aka complex carbs) and “crap” (aka simple carbs) – and this is where the confusion sets in for most people. By lumping all carbs together and then avoiding them, you are not only reducing your primary energy source, but you are also robbing your body’s “muscle-rebuilding” of nutrients required to burn the fat while building up lean muscle tissue.

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Any overly-processed snack foods (chips, crackers, cookies, etc.), breads and pastas are “crap” carbs. But things like vegetables, nuts, whole grains (including certain breads and crackers), and fruits are “healthy” carbs. You’ll need them to successfully lower body fat levels, and because you’re not restricting something from your system, there will be no “bounce back” (regaining of body fat) once you stop the restriction (dieting).

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As for calories, once again, the reason counting calories became a societal focus back in the 80’s was because Americans on the whole were over-eating, and over-indulging in a lot of “crap” foods. While counting calories is a great way to make one aware of how much they’re consuming, the down side is that the focus is on a number and NOT on WHAT they’re putting into their body.

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If you simply pay more attention to the quality of foods ingested, and the consistency of intake (how much and how often you eat), you do not need to count calories. Unless you’re eating high-fat, high-sugar, and/or overly-processed foods, a moderately balanced daily nutrition intake, with a regular quantity of effective exercise is all that’s required to ultimately shift your body from over-fat to healthy.

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So stop pointing fingers and blaming passive nutrition for your fat gain, and start exercising regularly and eating healthy balanced nutrition (with allowances for the less healthy foods that you enjoy) and you will change your body for the better and not have to anguish over the micro-management of your food.

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No Gym Intim

In 2015 I published an article about gym-intimidation (Gymtimidation) and for those of you who find gyms intimidating I recommend reading (or re-reading) the post (click on the highlighted title). But today I wanted to discuss this issue a bit further as I find it to be one of the top stumbling blocks for women in particular who are committed to getting in shape now that the new year is upon us, yet cannot overcome their nervous reluctance towards joining a gym.

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If you feel self-conscious in gym attire, awkward because you have no clue how to use the machines, and/or embarrassed by your lack of strength or stamina – you are far from alone! But as I stated in the previous post, whether it’s a girls-only gym or a “we’re all in this fat together” gym like Planet Fitness those feelings still surface and hold you back.

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The real issue is your perception of your body vs. your desire to change it. If your motivation is strong enough, and you are willing to direct and maintain your focus on to that singular goal of slow and steady changes, you can drive those self-sabotaging thoughts from your brain.

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To keep your focus on track and productive, start by accepting the shape you’re in today – not just your external shape — but your strength, stamina and coordination. Next pick two body parts to focus on, ideally your strongest or easiest to change (i.e., thighs or arms). Then wear clothes that you feel comfortable in, both for the comfort of exercising and sweating, and that you do not feel awkward visually in (i.e., t-shirt and shorts). Lastly, commit to three times a week, 30-minutes of slow but challenging resistance training of those chosen muscles (arms or legs), and slow but challenging cardio (walking at an incline, riding the stationary bike).

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Once you see some changes to your body, you will find your motivation renewed to keep pushing towards your goals. Now there are two “no-no’s” I wish to impart to you, that will keep you from self-doubt and discouragement:

1. Do NOT compare yourself or your body to anyone else! Everyone, and I mean everyone, has different variables that come into play, and no two bodies (and brains) are alike. Focus only on your upward growth and improvement and be patient and loving with your body.

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2. Do NOT focus on your mid-section (stomach). For those of you fighting to reduce body fat, especially from your tummy, this will be the last area to lose the fat – especially on women! Continue pushing yourself weekly, and follow my other posts where I discuss how to avoid plateauing, etc. and making certain that you’re eating enough. It took time for that fat to store up, and it takes time, hard work, and patience to lose it.

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Lastly I cannot stress enough that if that gym-intimidation still has a grip on you, consider purchasing at least 3 training sessions with a trainer whom you a good connection with (don’t let the gym just assign you one), and then allow them to ease you into understanding the equipment and how to push your body.

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As always, I’m here to offer advice and/or a customized training program should you desire it. (workouts247.com) Now go work out and be proud that you’re making a positive change!

MAKE 2017 DIFFERENT

Here we are again, the first month of a new year. Are you once again making resolutions or commitments to get into better shape? If so, what can you do to make the goals stick this time? Perhaps the first step is to change the goal.

Most of us who set a goal and fail to achieve it in an allotted period of time usually start a new year with the same goal in mind. However, if we do not change our approach to the goal, we will likely see the same results (or lack thereof). But often even you change your approach you still don’t achieve full success and that may be because the goal just doesn’t fit who you are or how you live. Don’t give up on your end goal, but perhaps you need to make a new plan that has a more immediate goal that will lead you ultimately to your end goal.

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To make 2017 be the year that you finally achieve your fitness goals you must first assess if you have goals that are achievable. If you are under a lot of stress, have limited free time, and/or limited funds – unless it’s life threatening, 95% of you will not lose fat, tone your muscles, or improve your strength and endurance – period. The reason is that you simply can’t successfully fit consistent and effective workouts into your hectic life as well as meal and snack planning, smart shopping and time intensive food prep and cooking. So rather than lament that your life is too stuck in a hectic hamster wheel and give up on your fitness goals by March, how about if you change the goal to be to get off the hamster wheel?

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Did you know that stress and lack of sleep is the number one inhibitor to fat loss? I have a client who eats clean and healthy 4-6 times a day, and works out effectively 3-4 times a week and still cannot reduce her body fat (in fact she’s seen some increase). The clear and only reason behind this is that she has a very demanding and stressful job and home life, feels emotionally “stressed out” daily and averages about 5 hours of sleep per night. I see a lot of you nodding your heads in empathy right now.

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When I talk with a new life coaching client and tell them that their first and primary goal is to find a way to reduce their stress by changing or altering their job, reorganizing household chores, rules, and assignments, and carving out (and maintaining) time for themselves, they usually start hyperventilating. But the longer we talk and outline step by step plans to get them from point A to Z the calmer they become and ultimately they get energized by the plan. Then it’s just a matter of holding them accountable, while maintaining fluidity to change the plans as the needs arise, and soon not only do they see a positive change to their bodies, they feel a radical and beneficial change to their entire lives.

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With all this said, I assign all of you who have a goal yet achieved (and often failed at on an annual basis) to look at the bigger picture and perhaps pick a new goal – one that will ultimately get you to your old goal – but one that is more important and more achievable at this time and place in your life. As always, I’m here to advise as a personal trainer and life strategies coach if you wish to work with me.

Now go make 2017 different!

DON’T CHEAT

If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know that I despise the word and concept of DIET as it means a temporary change in nutrition to achieve a single (and misplaced) goal. Along with my aversion to the word diet and dieting in general, is the commonly associated word CHEAT.

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I often hear people say I cheated and ate something bad.  The problem with using the word “cheat” (and bad) is that it implies a negative behavior and sets your brain up to rebel against your goal and therefore leads one to failure. Since no one can deprive themselves of the things they enjoy eating indefinitely (nor should they), diets always fail because the aftermath of a temporary nutritional change is to regain the lost weight/fat as the subject usually resumes eating they way they had before the diet.

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So today I offer this advice to those of you who still insist on dieting – do not say that you’ve cheated or been bad when you eat or drink something not “allowed” on your diet.  Food is not your spouse, you’re not married to it, lying to it, on trial, or in school – the only areas where the word cheating applies. You will be far more successful in your fat loss goals if you just acknowledge that you want to eat something that gives you pleasure  and consume it, albeit ideally in a small quantity.  Then resume your diet and get on with it.

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The other area of “cheating” that I want to address is that of your workouts. This time of year newly motivated fat-loss seeking customers flock to gyms or sign up with personal trainers to institute new workout plans in conjunction with their new diets. Although I never hear a client state I cheated on my workout and skipped a day, the altering of their fitness plan does occur on as regular basis as the diet-cheating, just without the self-inflicted negative chastising of calling it cheating.

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If you are committed to following a workout and meal plan to lose fat, then even if you’ve chosen to do so for a short and temporary period of time – don’t cheat. Workout out to the limits of your strength and endurance, and keep your nutrition focused. Again, if you veer off the diet for a meal/day, or skip a day/week of workouts, just get back on track without any negative shaming of yourself.

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Ultimately you will only succeed at permanent fat loss if you change your approach to nutrition on a long-term basis, while still keeping the less “lean and healthy” foods to a smaller and more moderate level (quantity). Eat 6 times a day and drink lots of water. Simultaneously prioritize and schedule high intensity workouts (both cardio and weights) 3 times a week at a minimum. Remember to change up your workouts (increase intensity and/or time spent) at least every 6 weeks so you do not plateau. Also remember that if you start building more muscle mass you might actually need to eat more — but eat smart!

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This is the only sure-fire way to reduce your body fat for good! So don’t cheat – just make a health plan and remind yourself that it’s okay if the plan changes or your get off track briefly. It’s all about the long haul.

STAND UP

2016 was a tough year for a lot of us, and as I look forward into 2017 to formulate my goals and targets I have come to realize that a three-pronged ideal can help us find better physical and emotional health. Therefore, this year I suggest we all adopt the following mantra: “Stand Up. Stand Up Straight. Stand Up Strong.”

Stand Up:

These words double as a fitness reminder and a social cue. Anyone with a goal of improved physical shape and health should simply stand up more, walk more and sit less (or at the very least stand up and move every 30-minutes). Likewise we should all stand up for preserving our own personal values as well as America’s tenuous democratic values as we forge into unknown (and for many of us very scary) territory with Trump at our helm.

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Stand Up Straight:

I often address the rampant increase of postural distortions in adults and children here in my blog, but this year I am on a personal mission to help everyone improve their health by observing and improving their posture. Your spine is the gateway between your brain and the rest of your body. If you have curved-in shoulders or hips, and knees or ankles that rotate inwards (pronate) you are cutting off and/or shorting out a lot of nerves that bring signals to and from your brain. So set a phone or watch reminder, or buddy up with a friend and remind yourself several times a day to stand up straight and tall, keep your shoulders squared and relaxed, and remember to breathe low and slow.

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Stand Up Strong:

This one can be taken both literally and figuratively. First, you must remember no matter how tough your path is currently, this too shall pass. But the key to improving your emotional or circumstantial life is to stay strong emotionally (and physically) and remember how strong you really are. Stand up for yourself and show your strength! Second, we must all stand up in a show of solidarity and strength so we can change that which is not working for all of us. We truly need to stand up strong together against racial, gender, and LGBT discrimination, double-standards of wages and rights, religious persecution, women’s rights, and the general bullying of anyone who disagrees with the “moral majority’s” opinions (that starts with the Oval Office)!

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For those of you who find this post a bit too soap-boxy, please indulge me as I am a child of the 60’s and it’s in my nature to stand up for my rights, my health and my peers. So if you agree, repeat after me (and then DO IT): Stand Up. Stand Up Straight. Stand Up Strong!

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