Fun with Fitness? There is no time like the Present!

As you may recall, last spring I began a journey down the road to living a healthier lifestyle. I went to BLR-Chicago (click link to read my musings of the week) as a way to jumpstart my fitness program and give myself a mental (and much needed) ‘reboot’. Prior to leaving for camp, a friend had recommend a personal trainer with whom she had enjoyed great success with. And as a result, I started seeing Ron Hoff, Power Lifting Mid-West Regional champion a couple weeks prior to leaving for camp. (He is not only an expert in lifting, but a certified health and fitness trainer)

You see, I had come to understand the dejected and weak state of mind I was in. After multiple injuries; (frozen shoulder, falling off a ladder=back issues), surgeries (twice on a torn meniscus, foot, carpel tunnel, c-sections), failed exercise regime attempts (I am competitive and push myself too hard too fast = injuries), I had my fill of failure! I knew my competitiveness would be detrimental to me, as my past injuries had proven, both on my own and in a class. Unless I was monitored by professionals who would watch my form, motivate me to push myself, but also keep me within the boundaries of safety to help prevent injury, I was just asking for more setbacks. There is nothing more discouraging than getting in a groove, become injured, have to stop, then end up as a result feeling like a failure. I knew I needed someone to help guide and coach me. Guided accountability from a trainer, along with the mental reboot camp would provide, were mandatory to my achieving success. Supported by a with a very loving husband and two daughters, I felt I had a recipe for success.

And so I headed off to camp last June and started my journey towards a new way of life. The trainers at camp were wonderful, but darn it, they just didn’t fit in my suitcase! Leaving camp and the wonderful support system with a brand new attitude, I resumed my sessions with Ron, never losing the momentum gained at BLR. While at camp, we were introduced to all forms of exercise, with the intent of having us find at least ONE we enjoyed and would stick with. I enjoyed most of the classes, but my new passion is lifting weights. (I also enjoy bicycling, but that is kinda difficult in the snow!)

As a woman, I find lifting weights to be extraordinarily empowering. I started off not even able to bench press (push up with your arms while laying flat on a bench) the weight of the bar (40lbs), but can now push up nearly my daughters weight. The benefits I’ve experienced from my personal weight lifting sessions are: I have gone down an entire clothes size, I no longer suffer from the periodic ‘blues’ (heavy weights release endorphins in to your system, a natural high!), I have loads of energy, I sleep better, daily tasks are a breeze, my confidence is up, I’m no longer winded going up stairs, my body doesn’t creak and groan, protesting even the simplest of tasks. Generally life is once again enjoyable and livable, and I’ve remained injury free.

Which brings me to back around to today, and my advocating for finding someone, anyone, who can help you on your own journey of health. Why should you find a support system? I’ll tell you why. Late fall I was ‘blessed’ with the grunge. It started in my sinus’ and moved in to the lungs. For two weeks I was unable to exercise at all because I was busy hacking up a lung, or keeping the kleenex company in business. Since that time I have not fully been able to shake off whatever it is, BUT…unlike previous times when those impediments would have stopped me in my track, I have NOT given up. Yes, I had to take a short time off, but Ron modified my workouts to be effective, and yet mindful of my weakness. Then an old injury in my hip started giving me grief. He modified again, allowing that body area to rest, while keeping me on track, not letting me make excuses nor lose the rhythm of the routine. We worked together, as a team, moving forward, always making progress, even if that ‘progress’ was to keep from sliding backwards. If I were on my own, I might have succumbed to the temptation to quit, as I had in the past.

I know not everyone is blessed with the ability to have a personal trainer. I understand that we all have life circumstances and health issues that can be barriers in our journey. But, that should be no excuse. It must NOT be an excuse that prevents you from starting some form of a health regime. If I can go from feeling 20 years older than I am, with physical injuries and a track record of failures, and yet in 6 months come to feel the best I’ve felt in two decades, you can also! Yes, it will take some work on your part, but nothing free is ever appreciated as much as that which we struggle to achieve. I cannot recommend highly enough working weight resistance and/or heavy weight lifting in to your routine. The benefits, especially for women are enormous, both mentally and physically. I’m no expert, but here are my three tips for success:

1. Find someone to walk with you both literally and mentally. Reach out boldly, and find someone to hold you accountable, encourage you, motivate you, and support you. If one person says no, ask another, do not give up. If you are able, hire a certified/qualified fitness trainer. Many gyms, as well as community centers, have trainers you can hire for a reasonable fee. My personal trainer Ron, works both out of his home gym and a local fitness center. One of my girlfriends is a fitness trainer and she teaches a class out in a church facility! Start looking, and you will find! Having that personal connection can make all the difference between success and failure. Some people have the inner drive, self disciple, self determination and personal accountability to be able to do it all on their own. Then there are the rest of us. There are vastly many more like me, who require an accountability coach/friend to keep us honest with ourselves. It took me some rough years and growing to feel older than I was to come to that understanding. But now that I have ‘seen the light’, I will not succumb to the lies that I cannot succeed. I can, and I have. Build that support system!

2. Set your goals. Make them attainable. My mistake in the past has been to focus on the end-goal, such as, ‘losing 20 pounds’. What a recipe for failure that was! By looking at the end goal, not having any milestones in between, I set myself up for failure when I didn’t immediately start seeing results. When life, illness and injury get in the way, I could not meet that goal in any reasonable time frame. Instead, try doing what my trainer had me do, set small reasonable goals. Such as, going down one clothes size, being able to walk up the stairs not winded, be able to take a bike ride with the family, easily walk the dog 2 miles, ect. In other words real attainable and measurable goals, that can be increased and achieved. (Start with a goal of walking 1 mile, or one block if that is the case, then increase to 2, then 4, and so on) When you meet that goal, set another small achievable one.

3. GET OFF THE SCALE. Judge your progress by your clothes size and how you feel! If you are building muscle, you may be trading fat for muscle, which takes up less volume = you lose inches, but the scale may never move. If you rely on a scale, you can set yourself up for failure. Judge how your clothes fit. At my current ‘pounds’ weight, I should not be able to fit in to the clothes size my scale weight is saying, judging by past history. But I am! Because of weight lifting, I have traded fat for muscle and so my cloth size has gone down. When I left camp, I had lost a mere 1.5 pounds according to their scale. However, for the first time in years, I felt AMAZING. I felt strong, energized, and set up for success. I could have walked away discouraged and dejected by such a measly weight loss. But I had a support system in place who encouraged me to not dwell on the scale, but instead judge how I FELT. So, I highly recommend if you are the type (like me) to get discouraged by a scale that doesn’t move, or move fast enough: GET OFF THE SCALE!

4. Fitness must be combined with a mental re-evaluation of food. Americans have a distorted sense of portion size and calorie content. The biggest reality shock I experienced at camp was how amazingly few calories my body needed to run efficiently. Not once did I feel hungry or drained, and yet each day we were exercising 4-5 hours/day and consuming no more than 1300-1500 calories. Yes, they had to be high quality and balanced units of energy, but when you consume fuel your body uses, it uses it! It doesn’t store it! Healthy ‘clean’ eating not only fuels your body, but it gives you glowing skin, better sleep, more energy, and will help your body function properly. You are what you eat. If you put garbage gasoline in your cars’ tank, it will not run properly, sputtering and stuttering, lurching down the road. But put in a high quality, clean fuel and not only does it clean your engine and lengthen the life of the car, but it will give you better mileage and performance. We take care of our vehicles and appliances, all of which are disposable in the end. Why do we neglect our bodies, which we have until the final sunset? Do we want to be lurching and sputtering miserably along to that day, or cruising along, enjoying every bit of scenery?

We are currently in the trifecta of holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. This is the time of year most people let go, and give up on both mental and physical health, procrastinating the idea till New Years resolutions roll around. (As if that day is going to magically transform us in to long lasting disciplined, purposeful, accountable beings!) So, I challenge you: live in the present, and there is no better time like the present to get started. This can also be the time of year to give yourself, and/or those you love the generous gift of health. That is the gift that will keep on giving throughout the year, and years to come, as well as to those you touch in your life.

Nike has the slogan ‘Just Do It’.

I think it’s time to find a new one. How about ‘There’s no Time like the Present!’?

Protein & Veggie Packed Light ‘Alfredo’ Pasta (Gluten Free)


When the temperature hovers at -10 degrees outside, with wind chills pushing that down to -30, the last thing one wants to eat is rabbit food. ‘Rabbit food’ is what my father called healthy, low-fat diet food, usually associated with salads. No, during these bitterly frigid periods, we turn to warm, comforting foods, which tend towards the fattier side. It’s really hard to get excited about a chilly, crisp pile of veggies when it’s a struggle to keep warm. This brings me to a weeknight dinner dilemma – fresh zucchini, a couple of ripe tomatoes, and a couple of defrosted chicken breasts stared back from the opened refrigerator. What to do? What to make?

Many times when searching for a meal to make, I get inspired by a quick google recipe search, or a ‘mental walk’ through my pantry.. After so many years of experience, I can usually spot a dud recipe vs a winner just by reading and envisioning how it would taste. One of the advantages of keeping a well stocked pantry is the ability to create a meal without having to dash out to the grocery.

This meal is a product of a decently stocked pantry, freezer and fridge.

*From the Pantry: Noodles, canned evaporated milk, cayenne, tomato, garlic, olive oil. (keep tomatoes & garlic at room temp, they lose flavor in the fridge.
*From the Freezer: Boneless/skinless chicken breasts, roasted red peppers, parmesan cheese. (peppers are cheap in late summer. Blacken them on your grill, sweat in a ziploc bag, peel-seed and freeze individually before packing into ziploc bags for long term storage. Parmesan can be bought in bulk at the wholesale club and stored in the freezer)
*From the Fridge: Butter, milk, zucchini, parsley, thyme

Below is the recipe I came up with. As you have probably noticed, I am not a formal recipe writer. I lay out the process as I do it, so read through the entire recipe before starting. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to resolve them.

I tried to make this as easy as possible. I hope you enjoy it. This is an easy, healthy and flexible dish when you have the whim for ‘rich’ comfort food. An added bonus is you only dirty one pot, one pan and a cutting board!

(This recipe can be made with wheat or gluten free noodles)

Protein Packed Veggie ‘Light’ Alfredo (serves 4)

4 Zucchini, 2 sliced in half longways, then sliced in to 1/2in half medallions, 2 julienned (long thin strips like spaghetti)
1 whole Roasted Bell Pepper, sliced in to ribbons
1 Tomato peeled and chopped in to 1 inch dice (peeling is not necessary)
2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, pounded to even thickness (put chicken in between 2 layers of saran wrap and use a rolling pin), seasoned with salt and pepper
Fettuccini (GF)  Noodles- 1 small handful uncooked, cooked al dente in boiling salted water. (Cooked equivalent of a generous 2 cups cooked. Make a circle out of your index finger and thumb, the pasta should fit in that circle)
1/2 cup Non-Fat Evaporated Milk
3/4 cup Low-Fat Milk
1 tbsp GF Flour (or all-purpose wheat)
1 tbsp Unsalted Butter
2 Tbsp chopped Italian Parsley
1.5 tsp fresh Thyme
3-5 cloves of Garlic (depending upon your taste)
grated Parmesan Cheese
Cayenne Pepper
Olive Oil

Put a 4-5 quart pan of water on to boil. Cook pasta to Al Dente according to directions. While GF noodles benefit from a rinse, in this dish you need them hot to ‘cook’ some of the ingredients.

1. In a small bowl combine milks, add flour, and whisk to blend evenly.
2. While water is heating, begin by heating your large skillet over a med-high heat. Peel and mince all but one clove of garlic. When the pan is hot, add approximately 2 tsp of olive oil to the pan, then garlic and immediately layer zucchini medallions in the pan and season with salt and pepper. Toss and flip over to brown both sides as best as possible. Do not overcook and do not burn the garlic. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, put zucchini on a plate and set aside. 3. Return skillet to heat, but reduce to medium heat, add another tsp of oil. Swirl pan. Season the chicken breasts on both sides, and brown, cooking until just done. (about 5-8 minutes, depending upon how thinly you pounded them) Remove pan from heat and transfer chicken to a plate that will hold any juices that accumulate, and set aside to rest. When chicken has rested for 3-5 mins, slice and chop in to bite sized pieces.
4.  There should be a ‘fond’ or browned bits in the bottom of the pan from the chicken. Add butter to melt, add last clove of minced garlic and briefly cook until fragrant. Add any juices released from the chicken. These are tasty and will help loosen the fond on the bottom of the pan. Add milk/flour mixture and whisk to combine, scraping up any remaining browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle in cayenne to taste. Bring to a simmer, then add noodles and let cook in hot sauce for 1 minute. Then add chicken, both cooked and uncooked zucchini, pepper and tomatoes. Heat to warm, tossing with tongs gently. Add herbs and parmesan to taste. (about 1/2 cup)
5. Toss and serve warm.

I pared this recipe down to serve 3, two portions to eat plus leftovers for Big Man to take to work for lunch. Wintertime produce brings lovely, cold-sweetened beets, which is what I made into a side salad to accompany the creamy pasta. I dressed the greens with a simple dressing made from fig vinegar and grape seed oil and added some goat cheese.

***Note: Recipe Modifications
If you don’t have fresh herbs, you may substitute dried. Other herb alternatives are basil, oregano, marjoram or thyme. Don’t have garlic? Substitute shallots or diced yellow onion.  Need to feed hungry teens? Add more pasta and double the sauce. Need to cut carbs? Use very little pasta and add in another julienned zucchini. Don’t have a handy little tool? Hone your knife skills or use a mandoline. Don’t be limited by the recipe, use your imagination and personal tastes.


Shameless Plug! Say Something, Cover by Fourth City

With the bitter cold of winter settling in here, my daughter took advantage of the excuse to be inside, warm, toasty, and put up another music video.
Her guitar playing friend was not available today to accompany her, so she turned to her trusty old companion, the piano.

I hope you enjoy this, and if you do, please feel free to pass it on!