Thursday, October 27

A Lesson from Snickers

Snickers playing dress-up with Janelle

My third-grader Janelle is studying animal behaviors in school. Quizzing her yesterday I asked, “What’s instinctual mean?”

“It’s like the Loggerhead sea turtle,” she said. “They’re born and they just know the right thing to do. They’re like, Aaaah, I got to get in the water! Get me to the ocean!”

Perhaps due to our daily drills on the peculiarities of animals I’ve starting paying attention to my dog Snickers’ behavior. And here’s something I noticed.

Every morning, after she jumps down from our bed (yes, we’re those kind of people), she immediately goes into full on yoga-dog mode. Her front legs straight, she pushes them forward while simultaneously dropping her chest to the floor and hiking her butt in the air. A perfect “down dog” posture. Now the name makes sense. (This reminds me of the time I realized why a ponytail was called a ponytail. Staring at a horse’s butt, it hit me, Hey, that’s exactly how my hair looks when I put it in a ponytail. Duh. Sometimes my stupidity surprises even me. But I digress.)

After her "down-dog" stretch, she goes into this one.
I call it "The Superman."
Snickers stretches instinctually. Every morning. I certainly didn’t teach her that. If I was going to train her to do something in the morning it’d be how to make a pot of coffee. She stretches on her own.

Observing her throughout the day I see that she stretches every time she’s been in the same position for a while. How about that. 

My lovely personal trainer from the In8 program, Will, is constantly reminding me to stretch. I leave every session with him calling after me, “Drink plenty of water and stretch, stretch, STRETCH!”

“Okay,” I call back knowing full well I’ll do none of it.

I don’t know why, but stretching just isn’t part of my day. But now, I’m thinking, Snickers might be on to something!

As we age our range of motion decreases and our muscles tighten, making every day activities more difficult. Stretching helps lengthen the muscles and improve flexibility and range of motion. Plus, it reduces the risk of injury to joints muscles and tendons and reduces muscle soreness and tension. And best of all, it feels good!

So this morning I stretched with Snickers and she rewarded my efforts with an energetic face-licking. And, taking another cue from my brilliant canine, I've been stetching after sitting at my desk for a decent length of time.

Snickers has succeeded in breaking through to me where my trainer has failed. What can I say? If Will had big brown eyes, velvety ears and looked at me as if I hung the moon, maybe I’d listen to him too.

Will—you reading this? That whole, worship-your-client look could be a new training technique for you. Just sayin’.

Here are a couple of Web sites that list some good stretches and have photos to guide you.

Basic Stretches

More Advanced Stretches

Happy Stretching! Love, Snickers

Friday, October 21

But, I don’t have time to exercise. Really.

This weekend I’m a single parent. Michael and Janelle, off on their biannual camping trip for the Indian Princess program, are ditching me for a cabin in the woods.

Better him than me, I say. I hate camping. Nothing is more miserable to me than waking up outside in freezing weather. If I lived in prehistoric times, I would have been the biggest diva cavewoman in the tribe. And most likely killed by my own clan for excessive whining. So I gladly wave and kiss them good-bye as I stay snuggly and warm in my 21st century abode.

But that leaves all chauffeuring responsibilities to me this weekend and between the school dance, soccer, a bar mitzvah, a birthday party and field hockey tryouts, I’m not sure I can get it all in. Plus, somewhere in there I’m supposed to find time to exercise. When exactly is that supposed to happen? The only time I have free is between 10 pm and 6 am and I kind of plan on sleeping then.

My dilemma reminded me of a study I recently read about the amount of exercise that’s required to be healthy.

Federal guidelines suggest getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, and that’s still the goal. BUT, according to Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), even small amounts of aerobic exercise help lower coronary heart disease risk.

Jacob Sattelmair, author of the AHA study said, "Even a little bit of activity makes a significant difference." And by a little bit, he means 10 to 15 minutes a day.

Thus while we still need to try and get our required 150 minutes in, on the weeks where life intervenes, doing something, even a small activity is still beneficial.

This is fabulous news. For some reason I tend to think of exercise as a one-hour gym experience and if my schedule doesn’t accommodate that kind of time, I don’t do it at all. And what this new study suggests is that even if you do a little exercise, you’re still impacting your health in a good way.

So, while I might struggle to carve out two hours of gym-time this weekend, I can squeeze in a quick walk with Snickers around the neighborhood and stroll around the soccer field while simultaneously watching Grant’s game. (Which I’m going to have to do to keep warm because the game is at 8 o’clock in the morning. Who makes up these schedules anyway? A polar bear?) 

Exercise isn’t an all-or-nothing concept. Every little bit does help.

Friday, October 14

EUI: Eating Under the Influence

I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not talking about gorging on nachos and cheesy fries after consuming alcohol. I’m talking about eating under the influence of friends.

A recent study by researchers Nicholas Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Harvard University and James Fowler, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, alleges that obesity is contagious. That’s right. These scientists are suggesting that you can catch it from your friends, just like you catch the flu.

Sound preposterous? Here’s their theory.

After analyzing data from 12,067 subjects over a 32-year time frame, the scientists found that friends, and friends of friends, had similar levels of obesity.

They proposed three theories for why this might happen:

  • One is homophily—the tendency to choose friends like oneself. (The whole “birds of a feather flock together” idea.)
  • The second explanation is, when people share the same environment they’re affected similarly.
  • The third explanation is that obesity is contagious. Their rationale is that a person’s idea of an acceptable weight or portion size changes when he sees how big his friends are or how much they eat. Thus people alter their own behavior to match their friends.

Specifically, Christakis and Fowler said, “We find that a person’s chances of becoming obese increase by 57% if they have a friend who becomes obese, 40% if they have a sibling who becomes obese, and 37% if a spouse becomes obese.”

Additionally, they noted that, “Mutual friends more than triple the risk to each other. If one of the two [mutual friends] becomes obese, the chance for the other to follow suit goes up 171%.”

Taking their theory to an extreme, they’re suggesting that a small group of individuals started the whole obesity epidemic.

Well, you can imagine the firestorm of criticism that has come their way since the study’s publication. Behavioral scientists argued that their methodology was “flawed” and that you can’t draw those kind of conclusions based on mere observations of how people behave. And then the statisticians got involved, stating that it is mathematically impossible to separate the three explanations, they are too intertwined.

I’m no scholar, so I’ll let those smarter than me debate the study’s accuracy.

I don’t subscribe to their “obesity is contagious” theory. I believe we have more control over our personal behavior and I don’t think you can blame the obesity epidemic on the obese. There are a myriad of factors in our society that contribute to the problem. That seems like a lot of unnecessary finger pointing to me. But the study did make me think about the influence of friends and specifically when I tend to overindulge.

For me, certain environments, not people, are the issue. My trigger environment is a party. Being around friends and family having a good time, eating and drinking is a tempting situation for me. I want to join the fun, have one more glass of wine or indulge in some sinful sugary concoction if everyone else is doing it.

When I think about the question, “If your friends were all jumping off a cliff would you do it too?”

My answer is, “If there was a party at the bottom, you betcha!”

So how do you stop temptation from taking over? From letting these situations sabotage your weight goals?

I fall back on a couple of basic In8 principals:

1) Self-awareness. You have to know what environments and situations are difficult for you and have a plan to address them.

2) Eat every three to four hours. If I have a healthy snack I’m much less likely to overindulge, regardless of what’s in front of me or what environment I’m in.

3) Stay hydrated. Experts suggest that oftentimes we mistake hunger for thirst. If you stay hydrated you’re likely to eat less.

4) Write it down. Whenever I feel like I’m going off track I restart my food journal. There’s nothing like writing down exactly what you’re consuming to highlight your bad choices and get you back into healthier habits.

In the end we’re in control of our life. We choose every day what to focus on, what makes our priority list. And hanging out with friends is always high on the list for me. I just need to snack and drink some water before I go!

Tuesday, October 11

Carter Mountain Orchard

Last week I wrote about apple picking at Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville. Since we had a three-day weekend and the weather was spectacular, we headed there on Sunday.

A word of warning: the crowd is insane. It's absolute chaos. If you're headed there on a weekend just relax and practice your meditative breathing as you sit in a long line of cars up the mountain road to the Apple Barn. It is worth it though. The scenery is wonderful and the apples are so delicious. We came home with Fuji, Golden Delicious and Stayman varieties and a gallon of yummy cider.

What a beautiful way to spend the afternoon. Check out the photos from our adventure below.

Apples ripe on the vine. I can't remember the variety.
My best guess is Stayman.

This is why I love this place. You have a beautiful view west
toward the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Arriving at the Apple Barn. I'm in pink, Amanda's in red,
Grant is in blue and Janelle's holding my hand.

Looking for some low hanging Golden Delicious apples.
There were none, unless you wanted the rotten ones
on the ground.

The elusive Golden Delicious. 

Without an apple picker (a long pole with a basket
on the end) this is the only way to get
some of the apples.

Thursday, October 6

Food Spotlight: Apple

First, a moment of silence to honor Steve Jobs, the co-founder, visionary and technological whiz that created Apple Computer, who died yesterday.

Like many people, Apple products fill our house. I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro. I have Apple TV, an iPhone, iPod and all my kids have an iTouch. We are such fans of all-things-Apple that we have numerous older versions of iPods scattered around the house like dirty socks, stuffed in drawers, old gym bags and in between the cushions of the sofa. I love the products he created, I admire his vision and passion and am deeply saddened by his passing.

As a small tribute, I dedicate this blog to him. The topic of course, is the apple.

The end of summer marks the end of berry season—a sad moment indeed. But luckily, apple season is in full swing.

Apples have been around since, well, since Adam and Eve. Maybe it’s because of this history, this ancient reputation and familiarity that they fell out of favor. The media, always looking for splashy new headlines, has recently been espousing the attributes of more exotic fruits like pomegranate, acai berry and goji berry.

Sometimes old stuff is really just that, old and tired, like my stirrup pants and big hair. Those relics belong in the past never to be seen again. But sometimes, old stuff is a classic, like the little black dress and Chanel No. 5. The apple might not be fancy, but it’s a classic. One that has a plethora of health benefits deserving of its adage at keeping the doctor away.

A recent study found that eating apples lowers cholesterol levels, plaque and inflammation in artery walls. Another study published by Dianne A. Hyson, PhD, RD, a nutritionist and researcher at the University of California at Davis, states that “in addition to their cardiovascular benefits, there’s some evidence that apples help regulate blood sugar and control appetite, protect against cancer and safeguard the lungs.”

And they’re full of fiber, Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, Vitamin A, thiamin, magnesium and phosphorus.

Huh. And here I thought they were just a simple, easy snack to throw in my kid’s lunchbox.

Since we’re in the heart of apple season might I suggest an outing this weekend? Apple picking. We love Carter Mountain Orchard outside Charlottesville. On a sunny day it’s absolutely beautiful and there’s something about gathering your own food, seeing how it’s grown and enjoying the outdoors that make this a fun, family activity.

Carter Mountain is Open Daily from 9:00 am — 6:00 pm. (Extended hours on Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 am – 7:00 pm). Click here for directions.

Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Fuji, Granny Smith, Stayman, York and Winesap varieties are ready now. (My favs are Golden Delicious, Jonagold and Fuji).

If you’re not quite sure what to do with all those apples, try making homemade applesauce. It’s really easy and if you select sweeter varieties you don’t need to add sugar. E.g., sweet apples are Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Winesap, McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp and Pink Lady. Use a mix of apple varieties for a really flavorful dish.

Here’s a quick and easy applesauce recipe.

                1 teaspoon cinnamon
                4 apples, cored, peeled and chopped
                ½ teaspoon nutmeg
                2 tablespoons water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until apples become very tender, about 30 minutes. Puree in a food processor or mash with a potato masher.