Monday, January 31

The Inevitable Fall from Grace

I fell off the wagon. Plummeted, really.

This is why I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions. They’re so difficult to maintain and I hate feeling like a failure. This is also why I deleted the word “obey” from my wedding vows. I had no intention of keeping that promise either.

My challenge in leading a healthy life is always the exercise component. Okay, and the meditation. And now that I think about it, I probably drink way too much wine as well. But the biggest problem, by far, is how easily I let exercise slip, specifically my cardio workouts.

My excuses are varied, quite colorful and sometimes even legitimate.

Like last week, I was staying at a friend’s house on the Chesapeake Bay by myself for a writer’s retreat. I’m working on a book and I needed a bit of solitude to get the creative juices flowing. I wrote and wrote and wrote and it was spectacularly productive, but there was absolutely no exercise involved.

I could have done something, like go for a run or walk down to the bay for a break. But no, instead, to clear my head I chose to watch Atonement, Planet Earth, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Love Actually. (And I have to say, I now have a huge crush on Colin Firth.)

Now the worst part of not exercising has set in—guilt. Well, that and my flabby thighs, but mostly it’s guilt.

If last week was the only time I’d not maintained my exercise routine I wouldn’t worry about it. But honestly, I haven’t even started on my New Year’s resolution to complete two cardio workouts a week.

Finally, I’ve decided that this lackadaisical attitude of mine has to go. So what’s preventing me from getting my now flabby thighs out the door and in to cycling class?


Sir Isaac Newton defined inertia as “every body … endeavours to preserve its present state, whether it be of rest or of moving…”

What Sir Newton is saying is that it’s easier to maintain the status quo than to change. This is why we get stuck in a rut. Because it’s familiar, comfortable. And change is hard, sometimes frightening.

According to Newton, the only way to get unstuck is to apply a force directly to the object. You need a metaphorical kick in the arse. 

So what force could possibly motivate me to change?

Surprisingly, it was a friend of mine. She’s 48 and looks fabulous. I had no idea how old she was until recently and if you’d asked me I would’ve guessed she was 10 years younger.

“Holy crap,” I responded when she told me her age, “You look fantastic.”

“It’s exercise,” she said. “I’m telling you, exercise is the cure-all for aging. Working out several times a week can cover up a lot of other sins.”

Ooh, that’s right. I had forgotten about that. And cardio in particular burns tons of calories.

Sunday, I was back in cycling class, peddling away. It appears that the fear of aging is my motivation. How could I have forgotten that?

If you’re stuck in the status quo or know you’re slipping from your goals, remind yourself why you wanted to lose weight/eat healthier/mediate more and take the first step to get back on the wagon. The hardest part is that first move, getting yourself unstuck. Once you complete that step, you’ll be at a new state of being. And as Sir Isaac Newton noted, you’ll want to stay there.

Wednesday, January 26

Food Spotlight: Kale

I fell in love with kale fifteen years ago after trying a recipe from Food & Wine magazine. A slightly bitter, green, leafy vegetable, I liked its tartness and ability to hold its own against the pungent Asian dressing the recipe called for. But those attributes are also its downfall.

It’s bitter, although not as much as collard greens. And it’s tough, literally. The leaves are more similar in texture to cabbage than lettuce, which at the time was surprising to me, but it shouldn’t have been. Kale is after all, part of the cabbage family.

Even though I liked kale, I only prepared it for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. For some reason it never became a staple in my house. It was put on a pedestal along with sausage stuffing, butternut squash soufflé, and pumpkin cheesecake, only to be consumed once, maybe twice a year.

At a recent dinner party I was served a delicious salad featuring raw kale and I began to reconsider my position on this vegetable. Who knew it could part of your daily diet? It never occurred to me to think of it as a substitute for lettuce. 

After researching the nutritional qualities of kale it’s clear we should be eating more of it. Actually, we should practically bathe in the stuff. Like its cousin broccoli, it’s ridiculously healthy for you.

One cup of kale contains 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and 15% of the daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), 40% of magnesium, 180% of vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C, and 1,020% of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.
Did you get that? All that goodness IN ONE CUP!
Additionally, its high concentration of carotenoids and flavonoids, two types of antioxidants, have linked kale consumption with a reduced risk of bladder, breast, colon, ovary, and prostate cancer.
Okay, I'm now convinced.
A special note about vitamin K.
Too much vitamin K can be a problem for people taking anticoagulants such as Warfarin (also called Coumadin, Jantoven and Marfarin). High levels of vitamin K may interfere with these drugs. If you’re taking these drugs or similar ones, consult your doctor before adding kale to your diet.
While you can find kale year round, it’s a cold weather vegetable and at its freshest now.
Look for firm, deeply colored leaves with hardy stems. The smaller leaves will be more tender and milder in flavor.
Store it, unwashed, in an airtight plastic bag for up to five days in the refrigerator. 

Here are two easy recipes to get you started.

Kale Chips (This one I’m dying to try. I’ve been told it’s fantastic.)

Monday, January 24

Health Journal Article

Dr. Bryan Lowry and I recently collaborated on an article for Health Journal magazine called "Relax: You're in Control." The article addresses the affects of chronic stress and the healing power of meditation. (you can find it here).

If you don't read the Health Journal you should check it out. It's got great advice, tips and information on a variety of health topics. Their website is or you can pick up the print version. It's FREE! I've seen it at Martin's grocery store and American Family Fitness near their entrances with all the other free publications.

Friday, January 21

Food Spotlight: 100-Calorie Snack Packs

Food manufacturers, in an effort to appeal to health conscious consumers, have begun packaging their products in single serving snack packs. Lining the grocery shelves are 100-calorie packs of Oreo cookies, Chips Ahoy!, Cheese Bits, Cheetos and other snack foods. In theory, this is a good idea. Dividing your favorite treats into smaller portion sizes allows you to indulge a little without going overboard.

Yeah, in theory it’s great. However, like a lot of theories it breaks down in practice.

This first problem with these snacks is the assumption that you’ll only eat one package. It is scientifically proven that protein, fiber and water are the elements in food that give you a feeling of satiation. They fill you up. These 100-calorie snack products are mostly sugar and carbohydrates which do nothing to satisfy your hunger. Chances are you’ll reach for another pack, and another, until finally, stomach still grumbling, you angrily walk down to the vending machine, punch A-7 and retrieve your Snickers bar.

These products are not designed to fill you up. They’re actually a launch pad for other poor choices.

The second, and more fundamental issue I have with these products is that they are a nutritional wasteland. They have very few vitamins, minerals, or other important nutrients. You’re consuming empty calories.

But Dianna, they’re CONVENIENT!, you say. Yeah, I know, that’s the one thing they have going for them. But with a little planning you can have some healthy snack options lying around the house or in your office.

Here’s a list of my favorite 100-calorie snacks. I broke them down in to two categories—snacks for the office and snacks for home. Stock up on some of these and conquer your mid-morning hunger pangs with a healthy choice!

Healthy 100-Calorie Snacks for the Office
  • Half an apple with 2 teaspoons of peanut butter
(peanut butter is shelf stable, so you can keep a jar in the office)
  • 6 Wheat Thins crackers with two teaspoons of peanut butter
  • 3 cups of unbuttered popcorn
  • 1 package of Quaker Instant Oatmeal (regular flavor)
  • 1 banana
  • Starbucks Tall Skinny Latte (THAT’S what I’m talking about! And if you walk to Starbucks that’s a bonus!)

Healthy 100-Calorie Snacks for Home

  • Yoplait Light Fat-Free yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Fage Non-Fat Plain Greek yogurt plus 2 teaspoons of honey
  • 1/4 cup fat-free ranch dressing with mixed raw veggies
  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 28 grapes
  • 1 cup blueberries
1/2 medium cantaloupe
  • 15 strawberries dipped in 1⁄4 cup Cool Whip Lite
  • 45 steamed edamame (green soybeans)
1/2 red bell pepper dipped in 3 tablespoons hummus
  • 2 – Sargento Light String Cheese

Wednesday, January 19

Dianna's 80/20 Rule

I first learned about the 80/20 rule in business school.

Originally developed by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, it's also called Pareto's Principle. Vilfredo used it to describe the distribution of wealth in Italy. Specifically, he observed that 20% of the population owned 80% of the wealth. It's actually probably closer to 1% own 80% of the wealth, but that's a discussion for another time.

I'm borrowing the name, 80/20 Rule, for my own purposes because it's familiar and most importantly, it's catchy. I'm all about catchy phrases.

My version of the 80/20 rule has nothing to do with Italy, economics, wealth distribution, or even math. Well, actually there's a little math involved but nothing sophisticated. Pareto, in fact, would probably berate me for completely misrepresenting his theorem. But he's dead, so here I go.

Dianna's 80/20 Rule for Healthy Living:

Make good choices 80% of the time.

That's it. No splashy spreadsheets or statistics required. Just do the right thing, most of the time.

My rule is born out of the knowledge that no one's perfect. And it goes back to an element of the SMART goal methodology that I wrote about a few weeks ago. The "A" in SMART stands for "attainable." As we move forward with our New Year's resolutions, part of maintaining them is making sure they're attainable, or realistic. Part of being realistic is knowing you can't be perfect. So don't try to be. Do the right thing 80% of the time and allow yourself 20% of slack.

Okay, here's where the math comes in.

Applying my 80/20 rule to the days of the week means that I need to make good choices 5.6 days out of 7 (80% of 7 is 5.6). For simplicity let's round that figure up to six. Thus, six days a week I need to do the right thing--eat right, get to the gym, meditate etc. and one day a week I get a free pass.

If you feel like you need a little more structure, you can apply the rule to your total daily calories. For example, if you're following a 2,000-calorie a day plan, make 80% of those calories, or 1,600, smart choices and splurge on the remaining 400. You'll still be maintaining your calorie requirements for the day while also being able to enjoy a little of what you love. 
(I'm not alone in thinking that little splurges along the way are okay. Weight Watchers' new Points Plus system encourages treating yourself with weekly extras.)

My 80/20 rule is really more of a philosophy than a set of rigid guidelines. It inspires me to live healthy most of the time, but it also gives me some wiggle room for weddings, date night, and the monthly chocolate cravings brought on by PMS.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn't about constant deprivation. It's about balance.

That Pareto guy was really on to something and given that he was Italian, I bet he'd agree with my interpretation of his famous principle. Provided of course that we discuss it over a glass of chianti.

Thursday, January 13

Destress Your Life, One Room at a Time

I awoke last Saturday morning with one clear, concise thought—today the Christmas decorations HAVE to come down!

Ordering my family around in a manner General George S. Patton would find intimidating, the ornaments were pulled from the tree, neatly wrapped in tissue paper and placed in their green bins—the ones with the individual dividers. Stockings, candles, poinsettias, wreaths and crystal garland moved from walls, tables, banisters and chandeliers into large cardboard boxes marked “Christmas.” And finally, the artificial tree was dismantled and placed into its seven-foot storage container.

Glancing around the sun room, now void of the tree and the large Santa decoration adorning the table, it suddenly felt voluminous, like the inside of a cathedral. I felt liberated, my breathing slowed, my shoulders dropped, my mind relaxed. My now minimalist surroundings were a welcome respite from the excesses of the holidays.

It’s no wonder I get a little purge-happy this time of year. What begins innocently as removing the holiday decorations turns into a whole-home decluttering project.

“If I feel this good by simply cleaning up the sun room,” I tell myself, “imagine how good it’ll feel to go through my closet, and the kitchen, and, oh my God, the garage!”

Yes, it’s my favorite time of year. Time for a fresh start. Time to get organized.

The Affect of Clutter

Surrounding yourself with piles of paper, overflowing closets and desk drawers that won’t shut sends the message that your life is out of control. The disarray, seemingly too large to correct, leads to procrastination and ultimately, more chaos. It’s a vicious cycle that contributes to chronic stress.

Chronic stress is serious business. It’s been linked to heart disease, digestive problems, headaches, back pain, osteoporosis and psychological disorders.

To combat stress and regain control of your home, get organized.

Tips for Decluttering

1) Start small

It’s too daunting a task to declutter an entire house in one session. Even professional organizers like those on the TV show Clean Sweep need a crew of six and several days to pull that off.

Don’t set yourself up for failure, pick something small.

I like to start in a place where the disorder really bugs me. This year it was the kitchen pantry. Maybe for you it’s the junk drawer in the kitchen. Or the linen closet upstairs. Or the coat closet in the foyer.

Wherever it is, by selecting and completing a small project, you’ll build momentum.

2) Use the clean slate approach

Clear out the drawer, closet, or pantry completely and start with a clean slate. Only items considered useful or appropriate to the space are allowed back in.

Believe me, after taking the time to empty the space the last thing you’ll want to do is move everything back in there.

3) Use the “three piles” method

Put items into either a “Keep”, “Donate” or “Trash” pile.

My rule of thumb—if you don’t love it, let it go.

For years I kept knick-knacks I didn’t like because Aunt So-and-So or Uncle Blah-d-Blah gave them to me. I didn’t want to offend them by not displaying their gift in my home.

It was difficult but one year, I just let those things go. Those items were purchased with love and the givers thought I would like them, but tastes vary and inevitably your style changes. Let those items go.

You’ll discover that by getting rid of the things you don’t love allows you to showcase the items you do.

4) Get rid of stuff immediately

Don’t store your “Donate” or “Trash” bags in the garage. Put the “Donate” bags in your car to remind yourself to drop them off and toss out the “Trash.”

5) Stand back and admire your handiwork

After finishing my first decluttering project of the year, my kitchen pantry, I dragged my husband Michael over to bask in the glory of my organizational skills. My face beamed with pride and excitement. You’d think I just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Although I did not contribute to world peace, throwing away expired cans of black beans, half-used portions of Raman noodles, and three-year old pearl barley gave me some much needed personal peace.

For more information and tips check out these websites:

Monday, January 10

Ogling is Good For a Man's Health. No, really.

I had to share this news story. 

According to a German research project, men who enjoyed a daily dose of ogling buxom women had lower blood pressure, less heart disease and slower pulse rates compared to those who didn't engage in such activity.

Apparently, sexual excitement increases the heart rate and improves blood circulation, leading Dr. Karen Weatherby, who conducted the study, to suggest that, "Just 10 minutes of staring at the charms of a well endowed female is roughly equivalent to a 30-minute aerobics workout."

She also suggested that the study "indicates that engaging in this activity a few minutes daily cuts the risk of a stroke and heart attack in half."

Uh huh. 

But it quadruples a man's chances of being bludgeoned to death by his spouse or girlfriend, thereby shaving a good thirty years off his life expectancy.

They should study that!

Friday, January 7

Food Spotlight: Broccoli

I know what you’re thinking, broccoli, bleck! Yeah, I know. Even for a veggie lover like me, broccoli is a little tough to take. But there are couple of reasons why you should add it to your weekly diet.

First, it’s a superfood. And I mean SUPERFOOD. If you were stranded on a desert island with only broccoli as sustenance you’d be one lucky duck. (Minus the whole issue of getting yourself stranded on an island of course.)

Broccoli is loaded with vitamins A, B6, C, K, E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate. And it’s also a good source of minerals. Specifically, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium.

As if that wasn’t enough, it also has protein and fiber.

Crazy, right?

The second reason you should eat broccoli—consumption of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, turnip greens, mustard greens, and collard greens) has been linked with prevention of cancers of the breast, endometrium, colon, prostate, lung and bladder.

Scientists believe compounds in broccoli called isothiocyanates may help prevent cancer by ridding the body of carcinogens. Stated more simply, these compounds help detox your body at a cellular level.

I don’t know about you, but after the holidays a little cleansing from the inside out sounds pretty good.

With all this goodness in a little green floret, why does broccoli get such a bad rap? It’s not cooked properly, or creatively.

Broccoli is often a soft and mushy mess. No wonder no one wants to eat it!

Properly steamed broccoli should be bright green and still retain a bit of its crunch. A head of broccoli steams in roughly 5 minutes.

If you’re tired of plain old steamed broccoli, try these preparations:

Spicy Roasted Broccoli

A head of broccoli
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (more if you like spicy foods)

1) Preheat the oven to 250 degrees

2) Wash the broccoli under cool water, cut off the stems and cut any large florets into quarters

3) Place the broccoli on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes.

4) Bake for 20-25 minutes, until tender (but not mushy!)

5) If the broccoli looks a little dry, drizzle more olive oil over the top before serving.

Note: I made this Wednesday night and my meat-and-potato loving husband remarked, “Hey, this is pretty good.” 

I haven't tried the next two recipes but they sounded good too.


Tuesday, January 4

No More Excuses

It’s over. Kaput. Finito.

The holiday grind has come to an end and so have my excuses for not hitting the gym.

November and December are unique in that most of humanity understands and even sympathizes with you when you say, “I just don’t have time to workout.”

While mingling at cocktail parties, dining with friends and shopping with family members, everyone I talked to was overwhelmed, and like me, had dropped their normal workout routine. Coconspirators in our boycott of the gym, we toasted our busy-ness at restaurants and parties around town. We certainly had time to eat. I mean, you have to eat, right?

But now, it’s a new day, a new year and no one is going to come to my defense when I say, “I’m too busy.” Nothing happens in winter. No major holidays, no month-long celebrations. And no matter how hard I try, no one sympathizes with me when I say, “You know, I’d workout but with Martin Luther King Day right around the corner, I just don’t have the time.”

No time. That's the most common excuse for not exercising. Sure, I’ve used it. And I’ve also invented a few others. My favorite excuse was concocted during the baby-making years. Specifically, the years after the birth of my second child.

Michael and I debated for two-years about whether or not to have a third child. During this multi-year back-and-forth regarding the optimum size of our family, I didn’t exercise at all. My reason? Why do all that work to get in shape just to get fat again during pregnancy? It was easier to stay fat.

Eventually we decided to have another child and a year after she was born, I was ready to make a change. We were done expanding our family. I had no more excuses.

I joined a gym with a day care center and focused on a simple goal—drop the baby weight, once and for all.

I started slowly, attending yoga and pilates classes, nothing too extreme or demanding. To my surprise I lost five pounds the first month. While I was ecstatic with the weight loss, I gained something I hadn’t anticipated. Me-time.

With a kindergartener, a preschooler and an infant at home, I was consistently putting the needs of my family before mine. Getting back to the gym gave me back a sense of self-importance. I stretched my hour-long class into a two-hour stay at the gym. Bringing my clean clothes and toiletries I’d use the facilities to take a leisurely shower. One where my toddler wasn’t banging on the glass door begging for mommy to please get his truck off the shelf.

For a few hours a week I was focused on me. I worked out for me. I showered alone for me. I put on make-up. I even blow-dried my hair.

That’s when I realized exercise wasn’t just about losing weight. It was about taking care of myself. Making me a priority.

That renewed focus on health and wellness transferred over to my eating habits and changed my life for the better.

If you’ve got your excuses lined up about why you can’t possibly workout, eat better, get fit etc., what you’re really saying is you’re not a priority in your life. Everything else is more important.

I challenge you to change that thinking. Make health a priority this year. Make yourself a priority.

To get started, you need a goal. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to run the New
York Marathon or complete an Iron Man competition. But you need to shoot for something.

Here’s a goal setting methodology I like. It’s called SMART.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. It’s a thoughtful and detailed approach to goal setting.

Step One: Be Specific.

Goals like, “lose weight” or “eat better” are too vague to be helpful. Instead a goal should be something like, “Lose 30 pounds by exercising 4 times a week, eliminating sugar from my diet, watching my portion sizes, and increasing my intake of fresh fruit and vegetables.”

For example, my new goal is: “to increase the lean muscle mass in my legs by completing two strength training sessions a week and two cardio sessions a week.”

Step Two: Make Your Goal Measurable

How are you going to measure your progress? How will you know when you’ve been successful?

If your goal is to lose weight then measuring your success will be easy. The scale will tell you how you’re doing. Likewise if your goal is to decrease your cholesterol then a blood test at your next physical will let you know how you’ve done.

My goal, increasing muscle mass, is a bit trickier, but I will be able to tell how I’m doing by measuring the diameter of my legs and of course by looking in the mirror. I’m intimately familiar with the look of my legs. That’s why I don’t like wearing shorts. I’ll know when I’m making progress.

Step Three: Make Sure Your Goal Is Attainable

While goals should be challenging, you shouldn’t set yourself up for failure. Your goal should be a stretch for you, but reachable. If you’re unsure how far to push yourself healthwise, ask your physician for guidance.

Step Four: Make It Relevant

Your goals should be relevant to your current situation. For example, in the past losing weight was my primary goal but now that’s not relevant to my health. I’m already in a healthy weight category so my focus is on overall fitness and muscle tone.

Think about what’s important to your health. Maybe it’s losing weight or maybe you need to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure, quit smoking, or reduce your alcohol consumption. Whatever it is, your goal has to be aligned with what you need now.

Step Five: Select a Time Frame

The last component is a deadline. We’re all motivated by them. Just notice the flurry of activity before a big presentation or the jammed parking lots before Christmas. Pressure isn’t always a bad thing.

My deadline is June 1. That gives me five months to get my legs in shape for shorts season. (Yikes. I’m already panicked.)

In the end you should be able to write your SMART goal down in a concise statement or two. For example, here’s mine:

I am going to increase the lean muscle mass in my legs by completing two strength training and two cardio workout sessions a week. I will know I am making progress because the diameter of my legs will shrink and my legs will (finally) look okay while wearing shorts. I will complete my goal by June 1.

Okay people, no more excuses. Make your health a priority this year.

Write down your SMART goals for 2011 and get moving!