Fat, Sick, Tired... And Tired of It!

I'm the first to admit my healthy eating habits are fairly new. I was the high school kid who dumped three tablespoons of white sugar on her morning Grape Nuts. I’m the college undergrad who microwaved a Velveeta-Pace Picante Salsa concoction (hurl-worthy, I know), served with a bag of Tostitos, a beer and an episode of ‘Melrose Place.’ I was the professional dancer who ate a bowl of pasta AFTER rehearsal, engaged in a continuous and futile battle to lose ‘those last five pounds.’

Eating poorly for the greater portion of my life was neither deliberate nor rebellious. It was due to ignorance, plain and simple. I unwittingly bought shiny, processed food-like products because they looked good, not because they were good for my health. I spent most of my life ‘eating blind,’ baffled and bamboozled by the food industry, and despite my countless years as an athlete, I paid the price in weight gain, low energy, chronic colds and mood swings.

BUT TIMES, THEY ARE A’ CHANGIN’!

I can safely speak for us all when I say WE ARE SO TIRED OF BEING FAT AND TIRED! We are sickened, literally and figuratively, by the rampant disease in our bodies and the bodies of our children. We are coming to recognize the immense power of food on our well-being, and taking action against those who have heretofore cared more about their fiscal margins than those of us barely surviving in the bleak margins of health..

(this, my friends, will not do.)

Food Industry Giants?  Are you listening?

YES! YOU ARE!

The 3 articles below prove that America's food industry is stepping up to the plate:

Your Healthy Habits are Eating into the Packaged Foods Industry

Brands like Kraft, Kellog Company, Chef Boyardee and Swiss Miss have all reported falling profits, some by as much as 62%, because our eating habits are changing for the better. They must adapt, or perish.

McDonald's Chicken Gets New Standard: No Human Antibiotics

The consumption of factory meat treated with human antibiotics has rendered those same antibiotics less effective in treating human disease. Although not a perfect solution, McDonald’s has taken a step in the right direction by discontinuing its use of human antibiotics in their poultry. They are also phasing out dairy products manufactured with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rGBH), which causes cows to produce higher volumes of milk at a faster rate but comes with deleterious side effects, both for the cows and us.

Nestlé USA to Remove Artificial Ingredients From Candy

Most countries in Europe have been free of artificial ingredients and colorings for years. We are just beginning to recognize the egregiously high level of synthetic colors and chemicals consumed by our children, and to understand its adverse effect on cognitive processing, concentration, hyperactivity and impulse regulation.

To wrap it up…

Am I implying that processed, packaged foods are now healthy? No.

Am I recommending you run to your nearest Micky D's and order a big helping of chicken nuggets? Uh, no.

Am I suggesting that fruit gummies are just as wholesome for our kids as real fruit, since the added color is now culled from natural sources? Nay, people.

As much as these articles reflect a positive change in our common desire to adopt a healthier American lifestyle, it is only the first step in a long journey back to our birthright. We are born to be vibrant, to possess an abundance of energy, to live a robust, disease-free and fulfilling life. We have the power to reclaim our health, but we have quite a way to go.

It is our personal responsibility to continue to push the needle by making the best nutritional decisions for ourselves and our family, setting an example the entire country can get behind.

I am simply happy that the journey has begun.

Xoxoxo - Lara

The Beauty of the Bow

Take a moment, right now, and observe your posture. Are you hunched over your laptop, tablet or phone, slumped, a slowly collapsing "C", looking and feeling like a 100-year old Empress Dowager? Time to sit up straight and read about why you need more BOW POSE in your life!

Our socio-cultural environment is centered around the Screen, drawing you forward and down into its hypnotizing blue-iode dream.

This wreaks havoc on the spine, let's count the ways: 

- Reverses the natural, stable curve of the lower back, weakening the lumbar muscles and creating an environment for potential disc bulges or herniation

- Requires the hip flexors in the front of the thigh to overwork in its struggle to pull the lower back back into alignment, causing them to grow tight and rigid

- Increases the curvature in the upper back (Kyphosis), weakening the spinal muscles and shortening the front of the shoulder so that proper posture is greatly diminished

- The increased "C" curve in the upper back forces the neck to thrust forward in its effort to align itself properly through gravity, creating tension throughout the neck and shoulders

BOW POSE reverses all of these conditions! Bow is the King of Back Extension exercises and brings the neck, shoulders, spine and hips back into balance. Bow simultaneously lengthens the front of the shoulders, extends the upper back, returns the lumbar back into its natural position, and lengthens the hips flexors. OOOOH, BEAUTIFUL!

When practicing Bow Pose, keep your abdominals drawn in, keep your knees drawing toward one another, and think less of getting up high, but concentrate on GOING LONG, creating a circle from toes to crown of head and back around. Instead of looking up, focus your eyes forward and lift the base of the skull up and back. Practice Bow Pose three times, breathing in and out deeply for five cycles before lowering down in between each rep. Then finish in Child's Pose for a few breaths and let the endorphins flood your body before commencing with your day.

Enjoy the strength, the release, the breath and the Beauty of the Bow...

To Friends Old & New: The Magic of Transformation

It’s Lara here, reaching out to my amazing community from coast to coast and beyond. I’m plop in the middle of the country as I write these words, braced against the fierce winds of a bellicose Chicago winter, missing the crisp California sunshine and reflecting on the 2 years since my family and I transplanted ourselves to the Midwest. Here’s a musical expression of how I’m feeling:

In all seriousness and despite what’s turned out to be the worst winter in 30 years, my time in Chicago has been a necessary step in the evolution of both my teaching career and my desire to learn more, understand more, do more. Separating myself from the habits and history of 20 years spent in the easy arms of the West Coast has provided me a solitary period of introspection, a recalibration of who I am as a leader in and lover of All Things Wellness. My passion for the body and its potential has grown even stronger, and with it my means to share this passion has transformed to better suit this new and wondrous process of personal growth.

What I've learned:

• WELLNESS is so much more than just FITNESS (but don’t stop doing sit-ups, I beg).

• YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT, and this message is critically important NOW (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, HELP!).

• CHANGE requires risk-taking, courage and self-trust. So get some grit and JUMP.

• KNOWLEDGE is life’s magic dust. Never stop LEARNING.

Welcome to my new blog, comprised of anecdotes and insights on topics spanning the vast spectrum of Wellness. These posts, sent lovingly to your InBox each week, are dedicated to the journey I’ve embarked upon as I transition away from my role as "Trainer" and toward a deeper role of "Teacher," with the aspiration that these words on the page help you with your own journey through the currents of continuous change.

(my home writing station)

I hope you find a dusting of truth, humor and wind-in-the-hair resonance within this, past and future posts, as well as a sense of identification with me as I take risks, crack jokes, and hold onto the ride of life. After communing with you as a Pilates instructor over these last 15 years, I can’t wait to see what the next 15 have in store for us.

Here’s to the Magic of Transformation! 

With immense gratitude, Lara

 

The Bacon Dilemma

Back in October, when I began my journey through the vast nutritional hinterland, my mentors at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition stressed the importance of bio-individuality and encouraged me to explore how different foods affect me personally. I was also intrigued early on by the Blood Type Diet, and since my Blood Type A emerged out of the agricultural age, it is said that we do better on a vegetarian diet. So to kick start my subjective nutritional experiment, I took meat off the menu and observed what happened.

I was surprised to discover that forgoing flesh was incredibly easy. Firstly, I've never been a fan of handling raw meat. Perhaps my Pilates background ruined it for me - holding a disturbingly slimy chicken breast in hand, I can't help but imagine that this poor dead muscle, just days before, was vigorously contracting and releasing inside a squawking little bird. Super creepy. Historically I've allowed my husband to do the cooking, and I have suspended my disbelief just long enough to finish my plate and wipe the grease off my face.

Secondly, removing meat from my diet makes me feel lighter, more clear, more digestively functional, with my energy reserves free to do something other than push that porterhouse through my body over the course of 4 days (yes, folks, that's how long it takes to digest meat). I also feel better about decreasing the size of my footprint on the planet - I'm doing what I can to opt out of our country's environmentally destructive mega-meat-manufacturing machine.

I had been a vegetarian for two weeks, and my self-righteousness was in full effect. I swaggered about town thinner, sharper, healthier, snapping a carrot between my teeth and floating a "HA! TAKE THAT, CARNIVORES!" thought-bubble above my head.

And then... this happens.

My husband went to the Logan Square Farmer's Market and brought back bacon from a local farm in Wisconsin. Bacon for which he paid top dollar, in support of the farm who took care of its animals, who raised happy hogs that roamed, foraged, played in the mud. Bacon that one Sunday morning sizzled in the oven and permeated every corner of the house with its tenacious, tantalizing aroma.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

What is a newly conformed vegetarian to do? What is it about bacon that renders all those who catch a whiff of its insidious goodness completely powerless to resist? What is it about its salty, meaty, fatty, crunchy constitution that is so potent as to compel me to chuck (in about 3 seconds) this whole vegetarian malarkey in favor of a few precious strips?

I must suffer from Bacon-olism. This meat is MAGIC. And have you ever paired a piece of bacon with a nice cup of Dark Matter coffee? RE-LI-GIOUS.

All kidding aside, did I feel guilty about falling off the Kale Wagon? Not really. Our primal taste buds are literally programmed to favor foods high in salt, sugar and fat. Back in our hunter-gatherer days, we were in constant search of caloric sufficiency. Walking just shy of the shadow of starvation, we moved our wiry frames toward the all-consuming idea of our next meal. If we had the good fortune of a successful hunt and could feast on animal meat, we ate every part with the hope that we earned enough body fat to procreate and pass on our genes. In a way, this powerful dietary predilection toward, salty, sugary, fatty foods enabled the strongest of our species to survive.

Has bacon saved the world? A hyperbolic but not so far-fetched claim.

Of course, this primal predilection has now sabotaged a third of our country, and that number is growing fast. With a subsidized surplus of commodity foods (think corn, soy, meat) and the explosion of the fast food industry, the days of famine are over and our culture is in constant feast mode, eating salty, sugary, fatty food at every meal, and suffering the consequences - obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer.

So...what lessons did I learn during my Sunday morning, endorphin-drenched bacon frenzy?

Well, I learned that eating meat is okay. I learned that I'm okay with being a vegetarian during the week and a carnivore on the weekend, eating meat 1-2 times per week versus the American average of 2-3 times per day (check out this "Weekday Vegetarian" TED Talk for inspiration). As long as I commit to supporting local farms who uphold humane practices in the raising and handling of their animals, I am okay with my Sunday morning bacon.

I invite you, too, to be okay with being a meat eater. But perhaps consider reducing your consumption just a little, which will go a long way toward improving your health and taking some heat off the environment. Meatless Mondays? Foliage Fridays? Choose one day to leave meat off the menu and see how you feel. Then increase it to 2 or even 3 days per week.

By decreasing your meat consumption and increasing your intake of plant-based foods, you will be living more in alignment with the truth of your body, flooding it with nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits on your "off" days and giving your digestive system the critical enzymes it needs to process the meat you consume on your "on" days.

Good luck, and enjoy that bacon...just a little less often!

Survival of Your Winter Workouts

This is my second winter in Chicago, and this year, the season is taking its toll on my workout regimen. Last winter was long but relatively snow-free, so I was able to get outside (with myriad layers of proper gear) and run through the streets of the city during the deepest months, feeling cold but highly accomplished due to my get-out-there grit where others chose to stay indoors to drink beer and lament winter's heavy hand.

But this year? SNOW, SNOW, SNOW. The white world outside my window is beautiful for like maybe 5 minutes, but then it dawns on me that in order to continue life as usual, I have to trudge through the drifts with my Paul Bunyan snow boots, my hat, gloves, scarf, my puffy Michelin-Man coat - you get the picture. With each falling snowflake, the idea of staying at home with a nice buzz and self-righteous complaints about the weather sounds better and better.

I get it, Chicago! I get the temptation to hibernate, to gain a few pounds and blame it on the scene outside, to make excuses for your inactivity by scapegoating the snow.

But I'm a California girl and I will not succumb! Instead, I've developed some strategies that are helpful when the weather is bad and you REALLY want to stay under the covers.

1. FIND A HOT WORKOUT STUDIO: Okay, so maybe I'm biased because I own a studio that offers heated core-based strength training classes (Mercury Method, anyone?), but I can't tell you how good it feels to warm your bones in a heated room when the elements have put the city in deep freeze. Like a lizard on a hot rock, you can feel the heat seeping deep into your inner layers so you get warm from the inside out. And the fact that you are moving your body, lubricating your joints, circulating your blood, breathing deeply and breaking a sweat means that you're strengthening your own internal heat engine. Hot yoga is the most popular heated practice by far, but more and more group fitness studios are offering warm workouts, so check the current programming at your local fitness centers.

2. LACK MOTIVATION TO LEAVE THE HOUSE? - BUILD A BATHROOM GYM BASKET: It sounds simple enough, but this tactic has gotten me to keep my workout commitments more than anything else. Before you go to bed, pull all your workout gear together - pants, top, tennis shoes, water bottle, ear buds, etc. - put them in a basket in your bathroom so the next morning all you have to do is either: a) put it on!, or b) throw it in a gym bag and take it to work with you. If you wake up in the morning and in the semi-darkness try to hunt around for all that stuff, you'll blow it off altogether. A little preparation goes a long way, so take 5 minutes before bed and get your gear in order!

3. AT-HOME WORKOUT DVD'S ARE WHERE IT'S AT: Okay, I admit that on the coldest, darkest days, you are best served by surrendering to the power of Mother Nature. Stay home, hang out, catch up on domestic duties and watch an extra episode of Real Housewives. But be sure to carve out some time for an at-home workout. Roll out a mat, pop in your favorite workout DVD (many available on NetFlix and streaming) and combat seasonal fatigue with at least 30 minutes of rigorous exercise!

Remember, working out doesn't make you tired; exercise energizes you through deep breathing, circulation and muscle strengthening. Burn off those glucose reserves so you feel more like a red-hot phoenix and less like the icy sludge piled up outside your front door.

Winter tests your fitness fortitude, but don't allow yourself to fall victim to its hypothermic charms! Use any and all means to keep moving - stretch, curl, twist, arch, breathe and keep generating your inner sunshine when there is none outside. This too shall pass, and with it comes the beauty and re-birth of Springtime, when you can show some skin and show off that svelte physique you created during the worst of winter. Put your head down, put your Lululemons on, and get to it!

Dreaming and Doing

Do animals dream of rainbow futures and lofty successes? Humans certainly do, but how do we bring those dreams to fruition without feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared? With some easy, methodical tools and a positive attitude, we can transform dreams into goals and goals into achievements. Then voila! There's your rainbow!!

STEP I: CLARITY
Take a moment to write down some of your most inspiring dreams - dreams for today, this month, this year, 5 years, even 10 years from now. Don't leave anything ambiguous - be specific, create clarity around your dreams so that there is no room for inertia. Ambiguity is an Action-Killer, so place your intentions precisely.

STEP II: ACTION
Now that your dreams are crystal-clear, let's transform them into concrete, achievable GOALS. Try this:
Every night, write down a TO DO list for the next day, no more than 3-5 tasks that will help you move toward your goal. Breaking down larger goals into direct, manageable tasks is helpful in mitigating the paralyzing sensation of feeling overwhelmed. The next morning, commit to completing your TO DO list by the end of the day.

STEP III: ATTITUDE:
Now that you have created actionable tasks that will help move you toward your Goal, let's shift our perspective onto the POSITIVE:
Every night, take a moment to write down 3 things that you are GRATEFUL FOR. Reflect on the positive things that have occurred throughout the day - a person, an event, a place, or an action you took toward your goal - write down those moments and offer up gratitude for the GOOD in your life. Nurturing a positive attitude is a potent way to transform your inner life into one that attracts positive energy in your outer life.

The act of achieving your dreams is a process toward becoming your best self, and when you are your best self, inner happiness is born. So keep dreaming, keep believing, break it down, build it up, commit, be tenacious, move forward and go for it!

Salve for the Soul

It's been a rocky week, so today I took the long way to the coffee shop, breathing in the crisp autumn air, observing the beauty of the fallen leaves, and feeling immense gratitude as the radiant sun hit my skin. No matter how tough things get, the world offers the simple things to salve the soul. So when you're feeling stressed - even if you don't feel you have the time or even deserve it - step away from the worrisome and find a place that holds a quiet magic. You may just find a little bit of life's wonder...

HOLY BLOG, BATMAN!!

Hello to my Peeps!  It's a long time overdue but I'm happy to say my website is UP & RUNNING! Thanks so much to our web designer Stephanie Daniels for the beautiful site (http://www.linkedin.com/in/hellostephanie) and for building this blog platform for me.  I can't wait to share with you my insights - whether they be smart or silly, short or sickly verbose - and to hear your own insights about your journey toward health and wellness. Much like our continual efforts to be our Best Selves, this blog is all about PROCESS, a process to find my own voice and to hear yours. Thanks for your support, enjoy the site!  Xoxoxo Lara