Friday, January 27

10 Tips to Chase the Winter Blues Away

Rain, rain go away, come again some other day.

I’ve been chanting this nursery rhyme for days. The dreary, grey drizzle is driving me mad. Cloaked in blankets, slippers and sweaters and consuming gallons of hot tea, I can’t seem to get warm or motivated to go outside, even to run errands. I think bears have the right idea—we should just hibernate.

Finally, yesterday, the sun broke through the clouds. Hallelujah! Raising my face toward the sky I relished the warmth on my skin.

A little sunshine and I immediately had a boost of energy. Suddenly, I found time to grocery shop, take my dog Snickers for a walk, fold and put away the mountain of clean clothes on the bed and check-off a dozen things on my to-do list.

I’m not alone in having the shortened days and lack of sunshine sap my motivation. It’s well documented that the winter months typically bring on increased sleepiness and lethargy and as a result, weight gain. It’s in our DNA. When our eyes detect darkness, our brain releases melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. With the sun setting at 4:00 pm no wonder I’m tired by 6:30 pm!

Feeling like I have a case of the “winter blahs,” I researched ways to boost my mood. Here are the tips I’ve collected from the experts on how to chase the blues away.
  1. Get out there – Force yourself to go out even though you want to stay in. And if you really want a mood booster, spend some money on a great experience, e.g., a great dinner place, a concert, theatre tickets etc. Research shows that spending money on experiences boost your mood more than buying a new pair of shoes. (Side note to the experts: I don’t think you understand the emotional impact of shoes. My new Toms bring me loads of joy every time I put them on. So there. But I’ll do the experience stuff too.)
  2. Do a good deed. Focusing on those less fortunate creates empathy and forces us to appreciate what we have.
  3.  Pull out old photos. Grab a cup of tea and start flipping through your kids’ baby albums or that awesome vacation you took to Italy. Who wouldn’t feel better after memories of pasta and wine flood their brain!
  4. Try bright-light therapy. Sit in front of a special lamp (a bright fluorescent light that mimics the intensity of the sun) for about 30 minutes every day.
  5. Start an appreciation journal. At night, jot down the good stuff that happened during the day. Recording even the most mundane activities that went well will help you focus on the positive.
  6. Exercise. Regular exercise relieves stress and anxiety. Plus, working out makes you feel better about yourself which will boost your mood.
  7. Try meditation or a restorative yoga class. New research shows that spiritual practices, such as regular mindfulness exercises, can actually change brain structure in a way that promotes a sense of wellbeing.
  8. Cut back on alcohol. While sitting by the fire with a glass of wine or scotch seems like a good idea, alcohol is actually a depressant, which can exacerbate a depressed mood.
  9. Treat yourself to a massage. During a massage the levels of the stress hormone cortisol fall and the levels of the feel good hormone serotonin rise. Bad stuff goes down, good stuff goes up. Sign me up.
  10. Consider Omega-3 and Vitamin D supplements which both have been shown to have a positive effect on depression. Talk to your doctor about the correct dosage, especially with Vitamin D as too much is toxic.

Friday, January 20

Spinach Dip Swap

One of my weaknesses—food related that is, not emotional ones, which are too countless to list here—is spinach dip. That fatty, cheesy concoction masquerading as a health food. I love it. I especially adore Hannah Spinach Dip from Costco. Passing the refrigerator section it calls to me from the shelf. Staring wistfully at it, knowing I shouldn’t buy it, I quickly move away before temptation overtakes me. I can’t let it into the house. If I do, half the container will be gone in a single sitting and I'll rationalize my behavior with comments like, “Yeah, but it’s got spinach in it and that’s good for me.” Or, “I scooped it up with green peppers and celery so really it was helping me get my daily serving of vegetables.”

Uh huh. 

Psst…Dianna…it’s not really healthy.

Yeah, I know. Two tablespoons of Hannah Spinach Dip has 70 calories and 7 grams of fat. In fact, 80% of the calories are from fat.

(Heavy sigh.)

Convinced I would never find a good substitute for my beloved dip, I mentally pushed it into the category of "treat," which means I eat it only occasionally and under tight supervision. But, I’m happy to say, things might be changing. I made the following "healthy spinach dip" recipe for a casual dinner party and it was a big hit. So much so that my girlfriend asked for the recipe.

Taken from The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, this recipe produced a creamy, garlic spinach dip that gives the full fat version a run for its money. And the best part, two tablespoons are 40 calories (40% less than the Hannah's) and less than one gram of fat, an 85% reduction.

Give it a whirl. You’d be surprised how good it is.

Spinach Dip

10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and chopped coarse
1 1/2 cups lowfat cottage cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 TBLS extra-virgin olive oil
1 TBLS fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
pinch cayenne

Throw everything into a food processor and pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving.

To serve: spread some on a whole grain cracker and sprinkle with some grated parmesan cheese.

Thursday, January 12

A Broken Water Heater = Motivation

A new year. A fresh start. This time of year is supposed to be full of optimism and energy. So what’s wrong with me? I can’t seem to get motivated.

A new me? Eh, it can wait, I say. A new gym routine? Ugh, I can’t be bothered. I’d rather sit around in my jammies and watch TV.

Is it the cold weather forcing me into a recluse? Maybe it’s some sort of holiday hangover—a big let-down after months of festivities with friends and family?

I’m not sure but my recent attitude reminds me of Newton’s First Law of Physics: a body at rest tends to stay at rest. 

I needed something to get me back on track. A defibrillator to resuscitate my healthy lifestyle. inspiration. Who knew?
I found it in the most unlikely place: a broken water heater.

Last Friday our hot water heater broke. As of Tuesday morning, we were still washing dishes and brushing our teeth with ice cold water. Feeling guilty about bugging my friends to borrow their shower once again, it finally hit me—I can shower at the gym!

Not willing to enter American Family Fitness solely to use the shower, I attended the 8:15 a.m. cycle class. Afterwards I luxuriated in a ridiculously long hot shower. It was fantastic and it reminded me why I joined the gym in the first place.

Eight years ago and struggling to drop the last ten pounds of pregnancy weight after my youngest child was born, I decided to join a gym. I started slowly, attending pilates and yoga classes, nothing too strenuous. Amazingly, that first month I lost five pounds. I was thrilled that the weight was finally coming off, but what really shocked me was how much I enjoyed going to the gym. My weekly outings brought something into my life I hadn't realized was missing—a sense of freedom.

At that time, my children were aged six, three and one. Like every mom of preschoolers, there were no quiet moments to sip a cup of tea, read a magazine or watch TV. My days were filled with runs back and forth to preschool, nap time, potty training and sprinting through as many errands as possible—the grocery store, the dry cleaners, the bank---before afternoon activities, dinner and bedtime. A really good day was defined by a trip to Starbucks. Sipping a latte in the car was my treat, my little luxury.

And then I joined the gym. At first, I just dropped off my one year old Janelle into the daycare center, went to class, picked her up and went home. But then, noticing that Janelle was fine in daycare, I decided to bring some clean clothes and shower at the gym.




For a harried mother of three there was no greater pleasure than showering, getting dressed and fixing my hair and makeup completely ALONE. No little ones crying, whining or tugging on my shirt for attention. It was paradise.

Not only was I losing weight but I had regained some much needed me-time.

Exiting the gym Tuesday, my hair clean and makeup on, I felt fantastic. Ready to take on the day. Just like old times.

Our hot water heater is now fixed (finally!) and yet I’m headed back to the gym today. Not for a hot shower, but because, as I was reminded of yesterday, exercise makes me feel good. It’s time that’s devoted to improving myself and, borrowing a slogan from L’Oreal, because I’m worth it.

Now, don’t make me come and break your water heater. Go find your motivation and get out there. You’re worth it!

Thursday, January 5

Miss It's-All-About-Me

Last week as my 8:15am cycling class was ending, a woman began chatting with the instructor lamenting about the “newbies” that would invade her gym the first week of January.

“I hate this time of year,” she moaned. “Hordes of people join the gym, crowd up the place, get in my way and worst of all, they take my bike. It’d be great if I could reserve this specific bike. I mean, I’ve been her since July and I’ll still be here long after all the newbies give up.” She finished her little speech with a giggle.

No one else was laughing.

The instructor, ever so gently, reminded Miss It’s-All-About-Me that we should be supportive of the newbies. “They’re doing the right thing,” the instructor said. “Trying to change their health and their life. I think it’s great.”

Realizing that no one else in the room was a Cyborg and that we all actually have a heart  and compassion, Miss It’s-All-About-Me began to backtrack. “Yes, of course. And I’m happy for them. They are doing the right thing.”

What a narcissistic wench.

On the bright side, I just found my new favorite spot in cycling class. I plan on getting to class early each day and sit on Miss It’s-All-About-Me’s favorite bike. And then I’ll hum softly, “na-nana-nana-na.” To further annoy her, I’ll ask her for help getting set up and pepper my conversation with the phrase, “I’m new here.”

I am giddy with excitement. Thank you, Miss It’s-All-About-Me, you’ve made my day. Unfortunately for you, your days are going to get a lot worse.

If you’ve recently joined a gym don’t let these cranks bring you down or discourage you. Like a lot of folks, my first gym membership started in January too. It IS a step in the right direction, so good for you.

To complement your new exercise regime, you might be interested in the latest research from US News and World Report, they just released their rankings of the best overall diet programs. The Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) diet, which is the foundation of the In8 program, was ranked #2 overall by a panel of experts.

Well, I could’ve told them that. Although I take exception to the word "diet." That word has a lot of negative connotations—visions of hunger pangs and nibbling on celery and carrots for example. The TLC program isn't like that. It's really a retraining program. Educating you on the impact processed food has on your body and teaching you about better choices. Take bread for example, you can have it, just make it whole grain. Want something sweet? Try chocolate dipped strawberries.

The article (found here) details all the diets that were analyzed and what the experts liked and disliked about them.

With any diet program the key is to find something that works for you, something that you can maintain. That's what makes it successful.

Good luck on your health goals for 2012 and I'll see you at the gym! I'll be the one with the big smile on my face sitting in Miss It’s-All-About-Me's seat.